Enhance the value of your pipe cutting machine with fabrication workflow software.
Pipe cutting machines (AKA “pipe profilers”) can greatly increase the productivity of your pipe shop by cutting pipe far faster and more accurately than manual cutting. However, putting a pipe cutting machine in your shop is not a silver bullet because it tends to push production bottlenecks to other parts of your fabrication process. Understanding the nature of these bottlenecks and getting ahead of them are the keys to getting the most out of your capital investment in a pipe cutting machine.
Pipe cutting machines break one bottleneck into two.
Your pipe cutting machine will move your pipe production bottlenecks both upstream and downstream from the cutting stage. The upstream bottleneck is usually machine programming. The factory software that comes with pipe cutting machines typically has limited abilities to import data from your design software. As a result, your machine operator will have to translate spool sheets into machine programs. Not only is this time consuming, it’s also error-prone and can lead to wasted pipe.
The machine programming issue can be addressed with fabrication workflow software, which has much better API integrations with upstream BIM and CAD software, as well as better file importing capabilities. This can eliminate the need for machine programming entirely by taking the part specifications directly from the CAD or BIM tools used to design the parts. Even better, some fabrication workflow software is cloud-enabled, allowing data transfer to the pipe cutting machine using only an internet connection. This helps prevent lost files, accidental double-cuts, and eliminates the need for your pipe machine to be on your company’s computer network, thereby eliminating an IT security risk.
The downstream bottleneck created by pipe cutting machines affects part assembly and tracking. At first, shops that bring in a pipe cutting machine tend to operate at the same volume as before, but they get their work done more quickly. However, pipe cutting machines are so much faster than manual cutting that they enable the shop to operate at higher volumes with the same manpower. Once those volumes are realized, part labeling and tracking become pain points and welder availability becomes a limitation.
Again, fabrication workflow software can address this issue with advanced part labeling that makes it easy to keep track of the large volume of parts produced. Further, QR codes on the labels can be scanned by phones or tablets to display spool information for use in assembly in the shop or the field. The most advanced fabrication workflow software can also label pipe parts with information that can be used by semi- and fully automated welding systems if and when those are added to the shop.
In this article we explore fabrication workflow software recommendations that can help pipe fabricators improve their workflow without introducing new bottlenecks. With the right pipe cutting machine, backed by modern software, fabricators can further boost efficiency while meeting production needs.
Tech Stack Considerations for adding fabrication workflow software to your Pipe Cutting Machine.
When making a buying decision about fabrication workflow software, several factors should be taken into consideration. Most importantly, you should understand the machine’s compatibility with third-party software. Certain pipe cutting machine manufacturers prevent their machines from working with non-factory software. Machine manufacturers who support fabrication workflow software integration recognize that doing so will provide their customers with more options to solve their problems. Supporting fabrication workflow software also prevents lock-in to a given brand of machine because the software provides a common user experience regardless of the machine it’s controlling. If you later buy a different machine but use the same fabrication workflow software, the transition is quick and easy. Manufacturers that are focused only on near-term gains may view this as a negative because their customers can switch pipe machine brands later on if they’re dissatisfied with their current supplier’s hardware or service. However, manufacturers who are confident in their product and customer support view this as a positive because it’s ultimately more customer-friendly.
If you’re already using a pipe cutting machine that’s compatible with fabrication workflow software and you’re considering a new machine, you should investigate available software before you abandon your machine. Fabrication workflow software can often add powerful new capabilities and improve cut quality for only 5-10% the price of a new machine. Ultimately, understanding what fabrication workflow software can do will help inform your choice of machine and will likely save you money in both the short and long run.
What modelling tools do you use?
BIM and CAD tools are essential for fabricators today. It’s well-understood that BIM helps prevent costly mistakes later in building construction, but it can also greatly increase fabrication efficiency if paired with advanced fabrication workflow software. In order to achieve this, make sure your machine software can take data directly from your BIM model. Don’t take the vendor’s word for it either, because the devil’s in the details. BIM models don’t specify the shape of pipe intersections and often miscommunicate o-let characteristics, so it’s essential to send a number of test files to the vendor and have them demonstrate the importing process so you can see how smooth it is. After importing, inspect the parts in detail so you can judge the fidelity of the process.
What types of machines do you use?
A pipe cutting machine is a major capital investment that requires serious research. There are several reputable vendors offering high quality products with good after-the-sale support and compatibility with fabrication workflow software, including Lincoln Electric (AKA Vernon Tool), HGG, Lone Star Cutting Solutions, and Machitech. Each of these manufacturers specializes in different market niches and price points, providing customers with a range of options when it comes to selecting the right equipment for their needs and budget.
What is your budget for technology?
Investing in a new pipe cutting machine can pay off in a surprisingly short period of time if the machine is used to its full potential with fabricating workflow software. You will save time and money on labor costs by reducing manual detailing, cutting material waste, and improving cut quality and accuracy that’ll make your welders more efficient.
Pipe cutting machines are available at a variety of price points, from as little as $50K to more than $500K. The biggest cost driver is the maximum pipe OD and the number of torch motion axes a machine has. The smallest and least expensive machines may only cut up to 8” pipe and have no automatic beveling functions. The largest machines can cut 60” OD pipe or larger with full beveling. However, a mid-range machine capable of cutting 16” pipe with partial beveling, like a Lone Star Revolver Pro, can cost less than $100K including fabrication workflow software from a company like PypeServer. Stepping up to 24” pipe can cost as little as $150K, and 48” and larger pipe can be cut for less than $200K.
Ultimately, if you invest in a quality machine, take full advantage of fabrication workflow software, and maintain your machine properly, it can transform and grow your business.
How will this disrupt my shop?
When it comes to implementing any changes to the workflows or processes on your shop floor it’s important to consider not only how these changes may benefit your operations, but also how they may potentially disrupt production. Everyone will need to be included in the process from design and detailing through fabrication. It’s essential that stakeholders understand not just what the machine can do but also invest the time to learn how to operate, troubleshoot, and integrate the machine with the upstream and downstream parts of the operation to ensure a smooth transition and to realize the full potential of the machine and software.
Why more contractors are using fabrication workflow software to improve communication between the detailers and fabricators.
In a recent case study, Silicon Valley Mechanical described their workflow as follows, “the Detailing team works with engineered drawings in AutoCAD Fabrication CADmep to set them up for prefabrication. Once a model is signed off and ready for build, we spool in the Fabrication shop, select the parts we want to cut using the PypeServer Connect plug-in for AutoCAD, and send the cut lists to our Vernon pipe machine using the PypeServer Cloud service to transmit the data and monitor progress.”
This is a textbook example of how good communication between detailers and fabricators, combined with a well thought out tech stack can save massive amounts of time and money on a project.