Before buying a linear saw, several common questions will be asked. What is the price? Speed? Accuracy? Most potential customers enquire about support and on-going maintenance. Occasionally, the topic of spare parts and availability is broached, and sporadically someone may throw in a question about training. These are all important questions and the answers should be given consideration. Even so, one more question is NEVER asked. It is the question that will have the biggest impact on your business in the long-term. The answer will dictate if your linear saw is actually creating hidden costs or providing a cost benefit.
How efficient and flexible are your optimization algorithms?
Optimizing. It seems straightforward enough. The computer program takes a few components, mixes and matches them, and works out what length of timber would be best to cut them from. Chippies and pull saw operators have been doing this in their heads since the beginning of time. However, the power of computers and intelligence of the software means the potential complexity is staggering. Cut files can have hundreds of components, but, without meaningful and efficient ways of sorting the components after cutting, the order of the cutting becomes critical and a significant optimizing constraint. Certain components may or may not be flipped, or flipped in only certain ways. The saws themselves will require certain components to be cut in a certain orientation. Shorter lengths of timber cost less than longer lengths but also tend to yield more waste as a percentage. Saws will produce more per hour when processing longer lengths of timber compared to shorter lengths. And the complexity continues.
As an example, consider the optimizing software of the Vekta Razer Saw. Over the past 20 years, the development of its software has focused on enhancing optimization for both flexibility and efficiency. In addition, over the past two years, Vekta has engaged and collaborated with a University Mathematics Department to develop groundbreaking, mathematically guaranteed, optimizing algorithms – spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars in R&D on this endeavour alone. Optimization is not a trivial element in today’s linear saws and it isn’t something that can be developed properly in just a few years. Good, proper, and efficient optimization is an extremely complicated process that can’t be rushed.
Yes ok, but can’t I just assume my saw’s optimizing is good enough?
If only the answer was an easy yes. Not all optimizing is created equal and the difference it can make is HUGE! Consider the amount of money spent on timber every year. Now add in the cost of disposing of timber waste each year and, why not, include a figure to cover the costs involved in managing the timber (ordering, handling, transporting). Now, consider roughly what percentage of that timber is or will be run through your linear saw. Divide the associated cost by 100. What is the result? A clear and simple figure that represents just how much money you stand to gain, or lose, every year for every 1% difference in your timber optimizing! Think about it for a moment… Slight changes in your optimizing CAN save, or cost, you a whole extra person’s wages each year!
Let’s talk numbers!
$1,000,000 worth of timber runs through the saw a year, divided by 100 = $10,000.
2% improvement in optimization = $20,000.
5% improvement in optimization = $50,000. Really, this is easily achievable with only small changes to settings.
Is my linear saw optimization creating a hidden cost or a benefit?
What questions should I ask? What should I be aware of?
- Is there flexibility in the cutting order? You may want to cut in a certain way now, but a good algorithm will give you efficient options to cut in a variety of manners. A good optimizing algorithm must be extremely flexible in how it can be configured if you want to achieve optimal results.
- How mature is the algorithm? Optimizing algorithms are a far less obvious element of a linear saw but they have one of the single biggest impacts on the financial benefits. Look for long-standing, constantly improved and improving algorithms.
- How much input from the operator is needed? Unfortunately, our brains can only do so much. The more an optimizing algorithm relies on human input, the poorer the results will tend to be. Sorry but it’s true… A computer is far better at those hard computations!
- Are there tools to help refine your settings? Every plant will want and need to optimize differently. This means a flexible system must be configured in a custom way to best fit your business. A good software package should have specific tools that will help you work out things such as what lengths of timber you should stock and the impact of the cutting order on timber efficiency.
- Are there clever ways to reduce the waste that goes in the bin? Most linear saws will give you options to cut things like noggins and blocks from your waste. But what if you don’t build walls or you don’t need any more blocks? Look and ask for flexible alternatives.
- Can I optimize differently for different scenarios? Trusses and frames can and usually should be optimized with slightly different settings to get the very most out of both. Make sure you understand your options for doing this with minimal changes to settings – you don’t want to have to constantly change settings back and forth, not to mention having to remember what settings have been changed.
- Where and how can optimizing be performed? Some businesses prefer to optimize at the saw. Others prefer for someone in the office to be responsible for minimizing waste. A good optimizing solution will provide efficient means of doing both, including the ability to lock files that have been pre-optimized. The software should also make it easy to optimize several files at once and automatically print off and/or save necessary files and documents, such as pick lists.
- What are the skill sets and background of the support providers? Consider the skill sets of those who provide the primary support for your saw. You want highly trained individuals with strong backgrounds in software. Support engineers should help review your optimizing results and improve them when changes are needed. Most truss plants do not have the internal skills or time to keep their optimizing systems firing on all cylinders. Get the experts to help you with this!!
- Is there ongoing development, and what future improvements can you expect? Ask your supplier about new features in their software that you might not be aware of. Ask them what’s coming up. Consider how likely your suggestions and wish lists will be considered. How often are new versions of your software released? Are you on the latest software?
- Can I run sample files and see the results? If you are looking at a new saw, it is a great idea to ask the suppliers you’re considering to run some sample files for you and analyze the results – the more the better! It’s amazing how rarely this happens for such a crucial element of a very expensive piece of equipment.
If you have a linear saw, take the time to evaluate your optimizing systems and settings. If you are looking at purchasing a linear saw, ask the questions and take the time to ensure the optimizing system stacks up to today’s standards and your expectations. In today’s highly competitive market, can you really afford not to?
Ed is the Managing Director of Vekta Automation. Born in the USA, he moved to Australia to study Mechatronic Engineering at Curtin University. Ed graduated in 2004 with Honours and then started working for PFP Technologies with the Razer Linear Saw. In 2009, Ed purchased the IP and rights to the Razer saw and formed Vekta Automation with his wife and brother. Ed has over 14 years experience with industrial automation projects specifically for the timber Truss and Frame industry. With a solid understanding of the conditions and needs of truss plants and his experience in industrial automation, he has helped many plants improve their production and business through automation. Ed’s success in combining his abilities as an Engineer and a Business Director was officially recognised when he was named the 2018 Winner for the Medium Business Category—40under40 in the Business News Awards. However, if asked what he’s most proud of, Ed would always say his family! Two beautiful little girls, a cheeky son, and an amazing wife are what really makes Ed tick! His family is the only thing that takes a higher priority in his life.