If you run a component manufacturing shop, you've probably heard some talk lately about optimizing saws—computerized linear saws that automate the component-cutting process. The saws excel at maximizing the use of each board of lumber and reducing waste, and their computer-guided capabilities are impressive. But like implementing any new technology, bringing an optimizing saw into a component shop—whether the goal is to replace or supplement manual saws—is not without certain challenges.
Because optimizing saws do all the work of determining where best to place each cut to get the most yield out of each board (hence the term “optimizing”) the operator does not have to be a highly skilled sawyer. Manual entry can result in duplication and error, but with an optimizing saw the link between the engineering software and the saw is automated, eliminating human error, according to Daniel Dew, product manager of optimizing saws for Weinig USA (circle 102).
A handful of key issues are likely to surface when a shop adds an optimizing saw, but the biggest challenge can be adjusting the manufacturing process itself, according to Dale Still, sales and marketing manager for Spida (circle 103). “It is unwise to add any machinery without looking at the impact this will have on other parts of your plant operation,” she says. “Can your jigs handle the extra components being cut? Where will you store cut components if you are not cutting by truss?” The logistics of materials handling, timing, and organization have to be adjusted to accommodate an optimizing saw's process and capabilities.
Because materials flow is key to the overall effectiveness of an optimizing saw, says Carl Schoening, vice president of sales and marketing for Truswal (circle 104), developing efficient in-feed and out-feed procedures or systems is critical. Although a few saw manufacturers offer add-on systems that automate in-feed and out-feed, for most shops these steps are handled more cost-effectively by the saw operators because automated materials handling systems can be very expensive and take up more floor space.
Each shop will find a different solution depending on its layout, equipment, workers, machinery, and other assets. John Holtman, operations manager for Santa Rosa, Calif.–based Mead Clarke Lumber, says his company resolved the out-feed issue by designing its own out-feed table, and perfected it through trial and error.
To more efficiently separate off-cuts from cut parts, Atlanta's Case Engineered Lumber had to develop its own set of kicker arms that sort the pieces into stacks, and also had to modify its production area a bit, says owner and CEO Kevin Case.
Getting all the cut parts for a whole component to the assembly table at the same time also can be problematic, especially if multiple components are being batched in one job. “One of the difficulties with optimizing is that it has a tendency to interrupt the flow of parts,” points out Dave McAdoo, director of engineering for Alpine Engineering's equipment division (circle 105). For example, parts coming off the cutting line for several trusses batched together will be organized according to how the computer placed the cuts to optimize the use of material. So you might not get all the parts you need for a complete truss until the end of the cutting job.
Nevertheless, batching components creates a larger cut file, and the larger the cut file the greater the opportunity for minimizing waste because the software has more options to play with, according to Jim Baker, general manager for The Koskovich Co. (circle 106). This is where efficient out-feed systems and knowledgeable workers can be particularly valuable. While it might seem best to place your most knowledgeable operator on the in-feed side of the saw, McAdoo advises putting that person on the out-feed end where more organizing and sorting has to happen, because making sure each piece goes to the right place as it comes off the cutting line takes a bit more know-how.
Because they are so different from manual saws, a shift in thinking about the cutting process is necessary, according to Steve Shrader, sales manager for Hundegger USA (circle 107). Materials will flow through the shop slightly differently, and instead of having hands-on cutting skills, operators need to be computer-literate. Giving control over to a computer, allowing it to make all the cutting decisions, can be difficult. “From an operating standpoint, [an optimizing saw] is a very sophisticated piece of equipment,” says Case. “It takes more discipline ... it's a little bit of a different mind-set.”
Optimizing saw manufacturers work with each company that is purchasing a saw to help accommodate the shop's specific needs, support the transition and implementation of a saw, and also provide training and support once the saw is up and running.