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Unifying Data Can Put Shops on the Road to Sustainability

Juan José Colás
By Juan José Colás Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Lantek Sheetmetal Solutions

In the sheet metal industry, we often overlook the vast amount of information contained in a single nesting and cutting job. When we send a job to the cutting machine, we can estimate real work time, downtime between jobs, wasted raw material, setup time, quality of the result, actual energy consumed and hundreds of other parameters for each job.

The information gathered from all the jobs executed on all the machines in a workshop is a gold mine. It contains the secret to continuous improvement, but too often the opportunity is wasted.

Companies that can unify information with a single data structure and work within those parameters can accurately measure production efficiency and budget effectiveness, which is essential for subcontractors. These suppliers can also optimize the process and improve it every day.

Database unification and cleansing are prerequisites. Lantek customers can achieve this because our CAD/CAM software can manage any cutting machine on the market.

One software to control every machine means working with the same databases, structure and repository. Additionally, our software provides native integration with production planning, budgeting and analytics systems.

Measuring and Analyzing What Matters

In the sheet metal manufacturing sector, there are two important resources that require measurement and analysis: raw material and electricity usage. Reducing the consumption of both is crucial from both a cost reduction and environmental perspective. To achieve this, an intelligent nesting system capable of maximizing raw material usage, a process that minimizes errors and reuses partially processed sheets and, above all, a planning system that optimizes work orders without changing the sheet, profile or tube models are all essential. As mentioned earlier, having a unified database for all metal processes that captures, classifies and interprets data is critical.

If the system is also capable of managing inventory while incorporating carbon footprint data from suppliers to customers—and all this information can be displayed in an analytics dashboard to monitor progress over time—companies will have made significant strides toward sustainability.

Of course, there are gaps in this approach, as it is not always easy to calculate the carbon footprint of certain processes (such as employee transportation or the source of consumed energy). However, the key is to start down this path and focus on the data that can be controlled.

Lantek MES calculates hundreds of parameters for each job managed through the company’s CAD/CAM Expert. These parameters include planned and actual work times, theoretical and actual material usage, real machine usage (including electricity consumption, cutting time and process quality), as well as the carbon footprint of both the origin and destination of the materials.

The result is a vast amount of data, hundreds of parameters for each operation, all of which is stored in a repository and structured in a common format. Our Internet of Things agent then cleans, classifies and encrypts the data before uploading it to the cloud for analysis or for delivery to other business intelligence tools with customer-specific requirements.

This process enables customers to have nearly real-time access to machine-related metrics such as overall equipment effectiveness and other key performance indicators (KPIs). It also provides insight into the evolution of 100 different parameters, allowing customers to make agile decisions and improve their production processes.

With this level of data granularity, companies can optimize their operations, minimize waste and costs, and reduce their environmental footprint.

The Path Forward

It is difficult to pinpoint the concrete impact in such a cross-cutting activity, where each company manufactures in its own niche, with different processes, sizes and levels of automation.

However, there is a common characteristic: their ability to start building the path. In other words, capturing data, measuring it, analyzing its evolution, proposing corrective measures and seeking optimization is what generates both a continuous improvement orientation and internal awareness of the environmental impact.

We advise clients to start the journey with a few but significant KPIs, and get accustomed to tracking and improving them because the business’ own inertia leads to the incorporation of new indicators, new objectives and a more ambitious awareness.

By starting small and gradually expanding, businesses can better understand their environmental impact and take steps to reduce it, leading to more sustainable practices.

In the past, the key factor that set one metal-processing company apart from another was its ability and efficiency in working with metal. This included the price at which it was purchased, the speed and efficiency of production and the quality of the final work.

Going forward, successful companies will be those that can efficiently work with data. This will be the raw material that leads to efficiency in productivity, commercial success, continuous improvement and sustainable production, making companies more competitive.

Smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and the intelligent enterprise are all concepts that simply describe the new reality: Data is the new raw material that companies must learn to work.

Companies must be adept at capturing and analyzing data, making data-driven decisions and optimizing their processes to remain competitive in the rapidly evolving business landscape. Those that can effectively work with this new raw material will be better positioned to succeed in the future.

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