Novel software system enables Saskatoon fabricating OEM to reduce programming time and errors.
Venmar CES Inc., a developer of energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) for public and commercial buildings based in Saskatoon, Sask., is reaping dramatic benefits from an upgrade to its computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software.
It uses Radbend from Radan/Planit Solutions to program its three AccurPress press brakes.
As a large metal fabricating original equipment manufacturer, Venmar credits Radbend with reducing the time needed to program jobs by 65 percent and errors due to programming by about 90 percent – in a steadily expanding business.
“Those gains add up to our recovering the investment in Radbend and its implementation in less than one year,” said Wade Tkachuk, director of management information systems (MIS) for the Saskatoon facility. “It is also quite conservative, even from an accounting standpoint. Only the savings in direct labor – payroll – were tabulated. Gains not directly related to Radbend were not counted.”
Radbend Gains at a Glance
- 90 percent fewer programming errors
- 65 percent reduction in programming time and related labor
- Press brake bottleneck ended
- One programmer now does the work of two
The biggest benefit, Tkachuk added, is that “press brakes are no longer a bottleneck, and that has helped us with on-time deliveries” even as production has expanded.
Moreover, the larger workload previously handled by two programmers is now done mostly by one allowing more capacity in the department for quotation, design and projects.
The Saskatoon facility turns out 1,000 to 1,400 sheet metal pieces a day from 550 to 700 steel sheets. All the forming and bending work is done on two press brakes from AccurPress, with a third coming online. The plant also has two Murata Wiedemann turret punch presses, which have been programmed with Radan’s Radpunch software for many years. Venmar-Saskatoon also has a cut-to-length line.
The company’s primary products are energy recovery ventilators using plates, heat pipes and enthalpy wheels. They recover waste energy (heating and cooling) from ventilation systems in large buildings including schools, hospitals, shopping malls, office complexes, recreational centers and gyms. Rising energy costs add to the demand for its systems.
Venmar’s systems or components are in more than one million systems in North America but the company also sells worldwide and the units made in Saskatoon handle 300 to 5,500 cubic feet of air a minute (CFM). A sister plant in St-Léonard d’Aston, Quebec, makes larger systems – 1,000 to 40,000 CFM – that are highly customized. Tkachuk is also responsible for MIS at the Quebec plant.
Press Brake Productivity
Press brakes had long been a production bottleneck at the Saskatoon plant. Part of the answer was a third press brake, a 2008 AccurPress Model 717512.
The opportunities were three-fold:
- To take advantage of a recent production-floor expansion and satisfy strong customer demand.
- To keep pace with steady business growth and improve on-time deliveries without building inventories of finished goods or work-in-process (W-I-P).
- To offset higher costs for steel and energy and to help offset the weak US dollar, which has handed a new edge to US-based competitors.
Press brakes had been a traditional bottleneck in Venmar CES’s metal fabricating in both operating and programming. To improve press brake efficiency, Venmar CES standardized the tooling, which reduced set-up times and variability.
To address programming, a more efficient solution that leveraged 3D models and minimized manual intervention was required. That solution was Radbend.
This solution was also put in place to support the Demand Flow Technology (DFT) lean manufacturing process that Venmar adopted several years ago.
- Automated placement of finger-stops on press brake back gages. Finger-stops determine the location of each bend and many CAM packages still require programmers to set each finger -stop by hand.
- Automated tool selection that accommodates types of bends and gages of steel. Venmar CES uses steel in 20 ga. to 11 ga. (approximately 0.035 to 0.125 inch).
- Libraries of predefined tooling. “Radbend selects the proper punches and dies for the thickness of the metal and the radiuses of the programmed bends. That makes it easy to mix and match jobs even if the gauges and sheet widths are different,” he said.
- The ability to directly use solid models from the same Autodesk Inventor that Venmar designers use. Radan opens Inventor parts directly in Radbend, which eliminates the need for CAD-to-CAM translation between very different geometry formats. “The fact that Radpunch and Radbend are fed the same solid models from Inventor also helps accuracy,” he explained.
Results: Much Less Programming Time, Far Fewer Errors
Most of the gains are directly related the Radbend’s highly accurate 3D graphics.
“Radbend lets us see if there is going to be forming interference on the job,” Tkachuk said. “If there any potentially unbendable conditions, you can see them clearly in the graphics.”
The previous CAM software lacked Radbend’s full 3D graphics.
“It could not import solid models,” he explained. “It could only bring in the geometry after it had been converted to the old DWG [AutoCAD] format. Because the old software was 2D, it could not place bends automatically the way that Radbend does.”
Placing bends manually is tedious and a potential source of bending errors. Verifying these bends can be very time consuming, too.
“The old software did not have very many automated features,” Tkachuk said, “There was always a lot of repetitive work in every programming job. That was another reason why improving pressbrake programming has helped speed our fit-ups.”
Increased CAD-to-CAM Throughput
The most fundamental result from using Radbend at Saskatoon is increasing the CAD to CAM throughput.
“For us, that means the entire process of getting from the design to the physical part and getting jobs off the turret punch presses and onto the press brakes quickly,” he explained.
Quick CAD-to-CAM throughput is key to Venmar CES productivity because about 70 percent of its jobs have some customization.
Tkachuk noted that some potential Radbend benefits such as reductions in scrap rates have not been tallied up at Saskatoon. He explained that other than eliminating opportunities for possible errors, press brake quality assurance was not really a programming issue.
He also noted that sheet-metal fit-up problems for welding, joining and assembly have now been almost entirely eliminated. Forming issues with parts are caught before getting to the production floor.
“Radbend makes exactly what you load into it,” he said.
Many CAM success stories cite a gain in machine tool utilization but Venmar doesn’t see that as linked to programming either. He pointed out that the press brakes are no longer the production bottleneck, and that they now run only when needed. That makes available press brake uptime a more useful metric than utilization.
Because Venmar CES is not a job shop, machine utilization for its own sake is not especially meaningful.
“One of the biggest benefits from using Radbend is its predictability,” Tkachuk said. “That means a lot more than just avoiding errors. We found that the promised gains in programming time and the actual benefits were identical. The projected one-year return on investment was achieved. So were the anticipated benefits from the new capabilities we got with Radbend. We got exactly what Radan promised us.