A machine tool builder extends its software expertise beyond CAD/CAM
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A machine tool builder extends its software expertise beyond CAD/CAM

Dec 17, 2023

What if a metal fabricator could implement a software package that covered all aspects of the business and it was developed from a fabricator's perspective? Bystronic believes it can deliver that with its new BySoft Suite. Bystronic

Metal fabricators are experts when it comes to creating value from sheet metal and plate. That expertise, in many instances, doesn't extend to software development.

That's why software investment can challenge the most successful of metal fabricating companies. They know what they would like to have, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the software company has a product that checks all of their boxes. Often, a big gap exists between what a shop would like to have and what they end up with.

And this affects shops of all sizes. A large, multi-location fabricating company will spend thousands of dollars for a large ERP company to build specialized modules, so that the software product will more accurately reflect the company's processes. Meanwhile, a small shop, looking for something to help with production scheduling, might end up purchasing a software package that has more capabilities than it might ever need.

Bystronic recognized this struggle and saw an opportunity to fill a perceived gap in the market. What if a machine tool builder with ample experience in the metal fabricating industry and with intimate knowledge of how manufacturers and fabricators cope with the unique challenges associated with their customer base developed a software package that didn't require customization? The product made sense to the software user from the first login.

"As a machine tool producer and selling equipment, we only had a CAD/CAM package for cutting and bending machines. That's what we have been doing for the last 20 years," said Bystronic's Chief Digital Officer Alberto Martinez. "Just over two years ago, we started developing a software suite that covers the end-to-end process of a sheet metal company. It's not only the CAD/CAM, but also quoting, planning, ordering, production management, getting information from the machines, tracking KPIs, arranging for shipping, and delivering to the customer."

Bystronic calls its new BySoft Suite a "complete software ecosystem." The six families of products that make up the suite are organized along functional areas of a shop: BySoft CAD, where files are imported and part drawings are created; BySoft CAM, home of machine programming functionality; BySoft Shop Floor, which covers production scheduling, real-time shop floor tracking, and inventory; BySoft Cell Control, which provides oversight of focused production areas; BySoft Business, where front office activities, such as purchasing and sales live; and BySoft Insight, the home of all key performance metrics that provides managers a complete look at the entire operation.

While this was designed to be a complete software package for a metal fabricating company, Martinez said that doesn't mean it's an all-or-nothing purchase. He added that the software was designed with small and medium-sized companies in mind.

"This software gives our customers the possibility to move to the next level and to have a solution that can be small in the beginning, such as having CAD/CAM and then adding a product, such as quoting. Then, as the customer grows, they can take advantage of a full [manufacturing execution system], and if they need it, they can install a full [enterprise resource planning] system," Martinez said. "This is scalable and modular, which allows the customer to go step by step."

The BySoft Suite is available to users through traditional subscription methods or through a software-as-a-service model, where users only pay for what they use. Martinez said that the latter approach allows a company to adapt their investment to what is needed at the moment, eliminating costly initial investments that often accompany traditional software implementations. (Bystronic does offer cloud- and server-based options for its software package.) Martinez added that a cloud-based offering might prove to be most attractive for the small and medium-sized fabricators because the software is automatically updated on a regular basis, offers the latest cybersecurity tools, and adding new products is done without the need for software expertise at the customer's location.

Of course, the promise of an overall picture of the production process can take place only if interconnectivity exists among all machines, not just Bystronic's laser cutting machines and press brakes. Martinez said that by simply accessing PLCs and having the correct postprocessors created, which can be done in a matter of days, the BySoft Suite can collect information from painting, drilling, welding, and other equipment.

"If it is not possible to connect to the PLC, because we all know that some of our competitors will never open their hardware for us, we can connect with an iPad, for example. When the machine is run, the operator can update the iPad, and the information is fed into the system," Martinez said.

Bystronic understands metal fabricating, so when it came to developing a modern MES, it was confident in its work. It had no such similar experience in developing financial and other components commonly found in ERP systems, so it picked Microsoft Dynamics as the foundation on which it built its own ERP offering.

Martinez called the act of tailoring the Microsoft Dynamics ERP for metal fabricating use "verticalization." That's why a user of BySoft Business (Bystronic ERP) will find functionality that tracks things such as laser assist cutting gas usage and the amount of gas in tanks, while other mainstream ERP products simply don't have that type of metal fabricating insight, unless a customer has paid for that customization.

Right now, Bystronic has 15 customers using the BySoft Suite, according to Martinez. Some are very large companies using the ERP system across multiple locations, and small businesses that might be trying to lean more on quoting software instead of the institutional knowledge of an older employee who is close to retirement.

"If you talk about my personal wish, it's that small and medium companies can have access to the same power as the big ones," Martinez said. "Now, for many of them, the process to make quotes takes too much time, and they cannot update the planning in real time."

Metal fabricators got the chance to see the user interface and the software's potential capabilities at both EuroBLECH in Hannover, Germany, in late October and at FABTECH in Atlanta in early November. They might even have gotten an update on what's to come down the road.

Like the continuing advancement of machine tool technology, software developments won't cease with the release of the BySoft Suite. Martinez said future releases will include artificial intelligence enhancements that can make predictive maintenance more valuable and even get to the point where machine tools might configure themselves depending on the materials.