It wasn’t so long ago that the owner of a CNC router thought of software as just two packages, CAD and CAM (design and machining). These still get much of the initial focus, but woodshops practicing lean manufacturing tend to integrate those functions into broader software now.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a way for the woodshop to track and manage business data, while a manufacturing execution system (MES) monitors, connects and controls the machinery and equipment on the shop floor. The machinery is advancing too, as companies such as Biesse and Fanuc lead us toward CNC support robotics that load and unload, and move parts and supplies. More and more, the controls for those functions need to correlate with the basic software that runs the CNC router.
For example, Biesse says that its Selco WN6 ROS (Robotically Operated System) can actually take the place of an operator, so that idle times are drastically reduced and the risk of damage to material due to panel handling by the operator is essentially removed.
Almost all CNC router manufacturers either package CAD and CAM software with the machine, or offer it as an option, or else recommend a certain package. But not all woodshops process jobs the same way, or work in the same materials and have the same requirements. Because of the custom nature of the industry, factory software may not always be the most suitable. Aspects to ponder here include the learning curve and whether somebody on staff is already familiar with certain software, or how the assigned package works with other machines and fits into the production process.
Woodworkers need to explore their options because software is an increasingly important facet of efficiency, and thus profit. Software is a very competitive market, and somewhat overwhelming. A package that seems to offer all the answers may have that jack-of-all-trades syndrome, where it does everything okay but nothing really well. The solution may be two or even three complementary software programs that can work together.
Software is such a critical element that woodshop owners may want to consider involving an expert before settling on a solution. If hiring a consultant isn’t an option, there are several ways to garner recommendations and lists of available programs. Industry organizations such as the Cabinet Makers Association (cabinetmakers.org) or the Architectural Woodwork Institute (awinet.org) offer ways for members to exchange ideas and discuss challenges such as this. And the trade show sites often list their exhibitors by category. For example, one can go to the IWF website (iwfatlanta.com), click on Exhibitors and then on 2020 exhibitors. The entire list is then searchable by product such as ‘Computer Software - Design to Manufacture’.