Bespoke automated production

Neil Parton, Elumatec’s managing director of Elumatec, explains how software can unite automation and bespoke projects.

Many people think of manufacturing efficiency and get an image in their heads of Henry Ford’s production line and his insistence that you could have your new Ford in any colour – providing it was black.

Ford was onto something: he didn’t build an empire based on individual, bespoke hand-built vehicles. He knew the benefits of automation, efficiency, standardisation or repeating the same operations over and again until they become simple, predictable and very economical.

The trouble with Ford’s model is that while products can be uniform, buyers aren’t. Every one of us is an individual and this has left us with a conundrum. We want products that are perfectly suited to our unique character and tastes at price points only achievable with streamlined production systems. In short, we need to automate the production of the bespoke.

Some might argue that this isn’t possible. For some products, I’d agree, but technology is advancing all the time and software we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago is now commonplace.

In our business – Elumatec – we’re supplying software that’s surprising people in its capabilities. The people we’re surprising aren’t those who have buried their heads in the sand with regards to technology. They’re people who’ve already embraced the principles and are experts, immersed in multi-dimensional computer-aided design.

They’re surprised at how effectively advanced machinery, advanced software and bespoke production can work together.

We recently supplied software to an independent business that specialises in aluminium framed doors. The work it undertakes is often for flagship projects, and bespoke commissions are the norm. Since the early 1990s, it has made the most of both 2D and 3D CAD technology.

It is using an Elumatec SBZ-122/74 machining centre and has invested in eluCad software. The transformation it is reporting is dramatic; its output has doubled. It has integrated the software with its quotation systems, and because programming can take place while the machining centre is operational, upcoming jobs are already in the system, twoweeks in advance, ready to be machined.

Setting up the machinery for bespoke work is no longer onerous. By linking the design software into the CNC programming errors can be eliminated, and another advantage is that the designers can effectively program the machining centre from any workstation. There’s no need to be on site to get the parameters checked, programmed and the machining centre ready to roll. It’s quick. It’s simple, and it’s making bespoke production far more economical.

Software is only part of the picture. People need to be able to use it and understand its potential. In the rush to ‘get going’ many of us ignore functionality beyond the basics. How many of us work with Microsoft’s Office and Excel daily and have still only scratched the surface? We find an expert on the packages and suddenly, every job we do is faster, and the results are more professional.

It’s the same with CNC machinery software. Beyond the basics lies real power, extra functionality and smoother integrations. That’s why we make sure our customers get training that fits their business and its ambitions. Generic training won’t do. It needs to be bespoke.

Software – providing it’s backed by the right training – unleashes the capacity to have both nuance and efficiency. It can cut steps from processes without forcing a compromise on the level of detail. it enables us to work where we want to, in the way we want to, preventing errors along the way. It’s software that builds the bridge between automated production and bespoke design.

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