Connova AG, based in Villmergen, Switzerland manufactures composite parts for the aviation, automotive, F1 racing and medical technology industries. The company was using prepreg nesting software supplied with their Zund cutter, which was difficult to work with and produced inefficient nests requiring additional manual work after creation. Creating CAD files from physical ply templates was slow. Furthermore, handling material and orders required separate, fragmented systems. Updating these systems, such as Excel spreadsheets, took time and was open to error. Said Cem Koeylueer, Head of Engineering; “There were many steps to take to get from CAD file or ply template through to cut plies. When talking to our customer Sauber F1 Team we established that we were wasting material because of poor nesting, so we decided to research the market. It took a long time for us to digitise prototype plies and to get them in electronic format with profiling information applied. At the same time we were in discussions with Porsche to supply composite heat shields for the 918 Spyder. Many other clients were requiring material traceability, so we decided to consider systems that could also take material management into account, as we were spending considerable time tracking material and working out the best roll to use.”
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During the Summer of 2013 Connova started to evaluate the market, providing a series of plies for nesting. JETCAM’s nests were 15-20% more efficient than their software and all other nest examples. JETCAM was also the only company that had an integrated material management system - CrossTrack - that could also be expanded to provide composite material life and ply/part traceability, with no financial penalty with upgrading later as Connova would only pay the difference in price between modules. This allowed them to consider a two-stage roll out, starting with roll management and nesting, followed by full material life tracking from freezer to autoclave. Jon Andri Joerg, CEO of Connova said; “We wanted to experience the first stage and make sure that the implementation went smoothly, with people being up to speed.”
During the selection process Connova won the order to supply the engine bay heat shields for the new Porsche 918 Spyder, with many other companies unable to manufacture the complex part. As their existing nesting software was proving inefficient they acquired some static nests through a third party in order to remain competitive. Although this ensured that they were producing efficient nests for Porsche they were unable to mix in other orders for the same material. Said Cem; “We needed to select a dynamic system quickly that could adapt, allowing us to maintain our competitive edge. We chose JETCAM for two reasons - the ease of use and it had the best material efficiency.”
The decision was made to purchase JETCAM Expert and CrossTrack AMS (Advanced Manufacturing Station) in early 2014. A five-day implementation and staff training plan was scheduled by JETCAM Composite GmbH for April, with Connova having the ability to create highly optimised nests after the first day. JETCAM Composite GmbH also installed a photography-based scanner to vectorize the composite templates, thus eliminating the use of a digitizing board which was taking two days a week to operate.
After going live the company immediately saw benefits. The speed at which ply prototype templates could be scanned, converted to DXF and then imported into JETCAM improved by at least 80%, with the previous 16 hours per week reduced to around 2 hours. Complete sets of plies could then be automatically created in JETCAM in seconds with profiling information added, ready for nesting.
The nesting process itself was also greatly improved. JETCAM’s high performance nesting allows Connova to specify a time to run, with the nest continually trying different layouts to achieve better efficiency. Significant additional work had to be done on their previous nesting software after nesting, but now once the nesting time has elapsed NC code and reports are generated and ready for use without any further user input required. With the inclusion of CrossTrack, JETCAM Expert is set to automatic mode, listening for instructions. The CAM process requires no user input whatsoever, with users simply dragging and dropping plies into an order list, which is passed with one click to JETCAM for nesting.
CrossTrack material management delivered further benefits. For the first time Connova had a single interface available for tracking material. There was much less data entry, and therefore possibility for error. As CrossTrack can have unlimited locations specified, the location of any item can be updated as it moves around the facility.
Connova also benefit from CrossTrack’s automatic material stock prioritisation, which specifies the shortest roll to use by default, and ensuring that they don’t end up with multiple rolls with minimal material. A further benefit is that CrossTrack can automatically create labelling information, either through user input or imported data. Previously this data was added manually, adding another step to the process and leaving the possibility of errors.
With a system spanning several processes and departments support is paramount. JETCAM Composite GmbH have provided telephone, remote and on-site support. Said Cem; “Support has been simply excellent. We can call up and questions are generally answered immediately, either over the phone or through a remote connection.” Added Mr Joerg; “They were very pleasant to work with, extremely flexible and capable to listen and understand our needs. With every investment in a company the service aspect is huge, so we were very happy with the JETCAM approach.”
Driven by the benefits already seen with CrossTrack AMS Connova are currently reviewing CrossTrack CMS, which will provide full material life traceability, along with nest scheduling. Said Mr Joerg; “If you work for customers in aerospace and med-tech industries and you get a quality audit this functionality is not ‘nice to have’ - it's a ‘must have’. The data we get already is accurate and if I compare that with the period before, where we used several spreadsheets, obviously errors are happening. So we are very happy to look forward to that next implementation step.”
Summary of Benefits
- System paid for itself in under two months
- Nests often 15-20% more efficient than previous/other systems, and much faster
- Full material batch traceability
- Option to track material/ply/kit life
- Much faster to enter material data in CrossTrack than previous system
- Connova can now quickly provide certification traceability reports for aerospace clients
- CrossTrack selects the best material to use for each job automatically
- Integrated with Camera to scan prototype, create DXF and then create ply file - From 16 hours to 2 hours per week
- Automatic ply labelling