Volume 34, Number 8, August 1999

Automate and Simplify
Employing Software Programs
Aimed at Increasing Productivity

by Sherif El-Dibani
In the competitive environment of the glazing industry, companies continually search for ways to reduce their costs, improve effectiveness and increase efficiency. Many companies have realized that employing software programs to reduce material waste, increase employee productivity and produce fast and accurate estimates, plays a major role in keeping them ahead of the competition.
Any company interested in streamlining its operations must consider software as a valuable tool, which helps produce a quality product. Software increases productivity prior to the release of a job to the plant floor. The quality issue comes into play when considering the accuracy of bids, the ease of generating quotes and the reliability of production information. After all, it is not uncommon for a company to win only one job out of every ten bids. This fact indicates that the process of bidding is an integral part of a company’s day-to-day operations, much like cutting and machining extrusions. Does it not follow then to accommodate this operation with the proper tools?
Many companies have long understood the argument presented above and purchased software to increase productivity and improve the quality of work generated by those front lines. In their decision process four simple factors are considered.
    a.     Ease and accuracy of cost calculation and price generation;
    b.     Material waste reduction;
    c.     Simplification of the fabrication process and reduction of fabrication errors; and
    d.     Longevity, serviceability and ease of use of the software package.

Cost Calculation and Price Generation
Consider the amount of time it takes to do the following:
   1.     Design windows or curtainwall elevations on CAD that meet project specifications;
    2.     Produce cross sections and material requirement lists;
    3.     Calculate extrusion, hardware and paint/finish costs;
    4.     Calculate fabrication times, assembly/installation times and costs; and
    5.     Produce shop drawing presentations, quotations and all other related paperwork.

Today’s software packages produce all of the above in just a few minutes. The operator can choose from a list of standard designs or build any complex elevation in two-dimensional and three-dimensional format with ease. The software then calculates all material lists, hardware requirements, detailed fabrication times by operation, detailed installation labor and material requirements with all costing/pricing information. In addition, with a simple click of the mouse, the operator can ask for any cross section of the elevation. All drawings can be printed on regular paper or any plotter and presented with the bid/estimate. The software also produces an infinite number of custom and standard reports, quotation formats, invoices, etc., to fit the most demanding architect’s requirements.
Such software reduces the time required to produce accurate, professional looking estimates and helps your staff spend more time on customer service and value-added work rather than on tedious, time consuming tasks. It allows them to complete more bids, more accurately than was possible before automation, and provides your clients and your shop floor with quality presentations and reliable information.
Don’t you then agree that a good software package in the function of bidding and estimating is, perhaps, as important as a good, reliable saw?
In fact, many have realized this point and have actually realized a payback on their software investment within 18 months.

Material Waste Reduction
Waste due to manufacturing and fabrication errors normally occur as drop-offs that may or may not be re-used. It is not uncommon to find waste reaching as high as 20 percent in some circumstances. It is not surprising then to find companies basing their software purchase decision on the amount of waste the software can reduce. It is important to consider the impact that manual calculation of cut sizes and optimized lineals have on a company’s bottom line.
To avoid underbidding and to ensure a comfortable margin, estimators often produce quotations that include large allowances for waste. This leads to bids that are inflated needlessly. In other circumstances, the fabricator may spend many hours manually producing take-offs in order to optimize the bar length and arrive at a realistic waste factor. Others may spend even more time and go as far as calculating the optimum bar length to purchase for a particular project. Often, however, cutting patterns calculated manually are not the patterns followed by the sawer. To avoid this problem, the estimator usually allows for, and orders, a few more bars of material. Again, this leads to bids that could be higher than your competitors.
The estimator can produce estimates and bids for one job or a batch of jobs that include:
   a.     The cost of lineals before optimization with standard waste factors;
    b.     The cost of lineals after optimization of standard bar lengths; and
    c.     The cost of lineals optimized with the optimum bar length.

The optimum bar length is the size of the bar the software calculates, given all restrictions from the
supplier, that yields the least waste for one or a group of projects.
To further simplify the cutting operation and to avoid errors, the software produces graphical sawing patterns indicating the part number of the profile to cut, the order in which the bar is to be cut and the cut angles required. This information is designed to reduce the chances of cutting errors and improve productivity of the workstation.

Manufacturing, Fabrication and Automation
In recent years, software systems have attempted to reduce errors by providing a variety of reports that indicate the manufacturing operations identification codes, and their x, y and z-axis. While this helps manufacturers who use CNC machines reduce the number of errors, it fails to accomplish the same for those who rely on the skill of manual labor. These systems assume that most machine operators are of a skill level that allows them to visualize this text information into the exact positions on an actual cut piece, an assumption that leaves room for errors.
Today’s software packages address the issue of fabrication by providing a complete graphical representation of profile machining and fabrication. These systems display and print graphically such information as:
    a.     Cut angles;
    b.     Complex multi-plane cut angles;
    c.     Radii for bending;
    d.     Location of fabrication operations along all axis of the extrusion; and
    e.     Diameters of punches, size of drainage holes, size of end milling, etc.

Manufacturing and Fabrication Set-up
For the manufacture of fenestration products, fabrication and manufacturing requirements are dependent on the extrusions used, their position within an elevation, the effect that neighboring extrusions have on them and the hardware types used. Rules-based configurators actually test the existence of any of the above conditions to calculate the type of fabrication required, their positions on a bar, the production flow and manufacturing times at each station.
These systems are much more flexible than the traditional bill of material (BOM)-based systems. BOM-based systems are better suited to production lines where the product is standard and is run in large batches. Good examples of such a product are computers, automobiles or telephone sets.

Serviceability and Ease of Use
One of the most important factors to consider in purchasing a software package is the ability to become self-sufficient in the day-to-day maintenance and use of the software.
Unfortunately, horror stories of failed system implementations and the purchase of weak or badly designed software, commonly referred to as vaporware, are abundant. Beware and thoroughly investigate the software vendor’s track record, number of years in business and general reputation in the industry. A good software package, if well chosen, is a profit center from which any company can benefit for many years.     

Sherif El-Dibani is operations manager for Computers Mean Business Inc., based in Ontario, Canada.

Offer Your Input: Track the Performance of Your Computer Software

Each August, USGlass provides its readers with extensive information on the various software and hardware available for the glass industry, such as different product features offered by a particular company. Readers then evaluate the alternatives and make a purchase.
But what happens once the sale is complete? How does the product perform? Was it worth the financial investment? How many times did the buyer call technical support to solve problems? Did the product perform the functions promised by the manufacturer?
USGlass would like to know the answers to these and other questions—but not just for one week or one month. We are looking for readers willing to track the performance of their glass-related software for one year. Participants would keep a log of problems encountered, how often these dilemmas occur and other important software related information. It is important that participants agree not to inform the respective software vendor of participation in the survey. Doing so may skew the results.
All participants will be entered into a drawing and the winner will receive $500. The results will be published in the August 2000 issue of USGlass. (This experiment should yield particularly interesting results given the Y2K bug.)
If you are interested in participating in this survey, please e-mail us at computer@glass.com, or call 540/720-5584 and we will provide additional details.


Copyright 1999 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.