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Pitfalls of brand software

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Behind what is perceived as the ideal software solution may well be a hidden trap for factory managers looking for shortcuts in running machine tools and other CNC equipment.

The emerging practice by manufacturers of selling multifunctional software to drive all machines in their production range can appear to make shop floor machine integration a lot simpler, but it has the potential to cause painful, unforseen problems, says a prominent distributor of both machines and software.

Ingo Bentrup, managing director of Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies (AST), has seen this situation from both sides of the fence.

As a major distributor in Australia and New Zealand of CNC machine tools and the software that drives them, he is concerned multifunctional software solution is being packaged as a quick fix for managers without thorough disclosure of the potential negatives.

"Seamless integration is very much the desire of most machine shop managers, but in the quest to achieve it and make it as simple as possible it appears that many are choosing multifunctional software - most of which cannot operate with machinery of other brands - only because it sounds so simple when presented as a solution," said Mr Bentrup.

"The reality is that choosing a multifunctional software to run every single machine in the workshop almost always limits the user to only that brand of machinery, and this can affect future business when needs are re-assessed and investment in other brands becomes more appropriate.

"Basically, it can eliminate the chance to utilise machines from any other manufacturer."

As a distributor of many brands of CNC controlled equipment such as bending machines, turret punches, presses, grinders, and laser cutters as well as software that drives them, Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies is in an almost unique position as it isn't locked into distributing a single brand line.

For example, AST sells FINN-POWER laser cutting machines which can use product-specific software called NC Express or JetCAM, a product from a strict software producer whose goods can be applied universally across all brands.

But because AST is selling to customers using not just FINN-POWER machines but other high profile equipment such as Amada and Trumpf it would be difficult to properly run the machines without flexibility in software choice.

Either way, integration is possible and it does not take too much effort to integrate a suite of software products of different brand names.

"If you are buying packaged, multifunctional software, you are only buying the same software that you can buy independently from different suppliers, only the interface has been altered slightly by the company distributing it," said Mr Bentrup.

"Most companies have software to run their turrets, presses and laser cutters which are integrated with 3D modelling software operated by designers.

"The selling point evolves around the 3D design/modelling software which basically positions designers as the future drivers of the factory floor, and this looks good to the managers and can lock them in.

"In reality, the problem that exists is the natural barrier between drafting and manufacturing and where they overlap - the people on design don't want to be doing manufacturing and vice versa.

"With this new approach of multifunctional software integration, the concept of having a design person basically driving the machine tools is considered by factory floor staff as a potential for disaster.

"Bending machines, cutting machines, laser cutters and other machinery should be driven by software that allows changeability. Therefore, the manufacturer is assured total flexibility in software choice and what sort of manufacturing equipment is used."

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