By Dan Davis
Metal fabricators are a fearless lot in many ways. They take on challenging jobs that may be of an incredible size or call for
something that the shop hasn’t quite done before,
and they typically do it in tight turnaround times.
But ask them about undertaking a so;ware migration, and those same folks might just shudder. No
matter what type of fabricating or organizational
skills a shop may have, working with new so;ware
never seems to be easy.
Hi-Tec Profiles Inc., Regina, Sask., has been facing this challenge routinely over the years as it has
grown since its founding 23 years ago. The shop
started out in a 12,000-square-foot space with one
shear, one press brake, and one torch plasma table.
It had five employees, including the president and
vice president, and mainly served the agricultural
customers that dot the landscape in western Canada. Today the fabricator has 70 employees and a
roster of equipment that would rival any of the largest operations in North America: 11 laser cutting
machines (three of which came with the acquisition
of a nearby competitor), one tube laser, two plasma
cutting tables, nine press brakes, and two plate rollers. Hi-Tec President Darren Carroll said the shop
pumps out about 2 million to 2. 5 million pounds of
steel parts per month.
That growth has spurred Hi-Tec to take a closer
look at its so;ware needs over the years, and finding
the right CAM so;ware fit has not always been easy.
Sometimes when things worked OK, such as in creating a parts nest, they didn’t work well enough to
avoid repetitive work if nests needed to be altered.
Other times, when the so;ware was needed to do
more, as expected, it didn’t live up to that potential.
Like with any tough task, the Hi-Tec team pushed
forward until they found the right CAM fit for their
needs. Now the shop is excited about what its so;ware can do and what it might mean for helping
streamline production processes in the future.
Tracing the Software Steps
When Carroll and the two founding partners came
together to start the business in 1995, they used a
CAM package that Carroll was familiar with from
previous fabricating experience. It worked well with
plasma cutting, which was the sole means of cutting back then, but when Hi-Tec started laser cutting
about two years later, it learned that the so;ware’s
nesting capabilities weren’t necessarily as strong as
was needed for its new cutting methods.
The shop migrated to the CAM and nesting so;ware that accompanied its new laser cutting machines, and it had success with that for a bit. It was
reliable and easy to use, but it wasn’t dynamic.
“It was the simplest so;ware available, but it
didn’t take that next step where it thought for itself.
In particular, this was an issue with something like
combining nests. You could do it, but it was a lot of
manual work,” Carroll said.
For instance, Carroll described the ordeal of having a nest with 50 di;erent parts on it that needed
to be reconfigured. This was not a quick fix. Any new
parts introduced to that nest required the programmer to plug in the new part numbers. If a lot of parts
needed to be added, the programmer had to spend
a lot of time on this administrative task instead of
programming additional laser cutting jobs.
In an e;ort to find a product that was more automated and could run the plasma cutting tables and
the laser cutting machines, Hi-Tec looked for another CAM so;ware package about seven years ago.
The company came across a so;ware developer
with an extensive presence in the metal fabricating
market and felt comfortable with implementing its
manufacturing management so;ware.
Upon installation, the so;ware did a good job of
producing nests and running the plasma cutting tables. The laser cutting machines were another story.
The so;ware just wouldn’t work with Hi-Tec’s
eight lasers. A promise from the so;ware developer
to make things work within three months turned
into several more months with the same results.
This back and forth repeated itself until Carroll finally kicked the so;ware out of the shop in 2015.
Hi-Tec went back to one of the other finalists in
its previous so;ware search, PEP Technology Inc.,
around the same time and asked them to take a
look at a part that was to be cut on one of the laser
“In a 24-hour span, they helped to get a part cut
on my machine. They sent me the code, and the machine cut the part,” Carroll said.
A;er years of struggling to find the right so;ware
fit, Hi-Tec had found a tool that was going to make a
real impact on its overall productivity.
Carroll said once the so;ware was up and running,
the results were noticeable with ordinary tasks:
• Previously combining nests took several min-
utes because the programmer had to manually in-
put part numbers and other information. Now he
only needs a few clicks of a button to combine two
old nest designs (see Figure 1).
• Instead of needing an hour to create a special
nest to accommodate a remnant from a previous
cutting job, a programmer now can create a nest on
any remnant size in seconds.
Walking in the footsteps of a fabricator
looking for a software fix
Most shops dread taking on a software changeover, but Hi-Tec Profiles Inc. proves it can be worth the effort