Being competitive for the long haul is a challenge for any manufacturer, which is why Alcon Tool stays ahead of the game by implementing new technologies to increase efficiency and material yield.
Based in Akron, Ohio, the 72-year-old company produces industrial cutting tools for a variety of sectors, such as food processing and textiles. Blades designed to slice through steel or rubber are among those in which the company specializes. Customers are free to order from a line of about 20 existing products, or to request custom designs, which are produced by the company’s engineering department.
As production often entails working with expensive materials, including stainless steels and tool steel, manufacturing can be challenging and missteps quite pricey.
“We can make whatever our customers can imagine, and in terms of size we run the whole gamut,” says Engineer Dan DeBellis, who has been with Alcon Tool for a decade. “We make things that are as small as 1” X 1”, all the way up to a 25 or 30-inch diameter, but most everything we make is mounted in some kind of industrial machinery.”
DeBellis attributes the company’s staying power to its customer service, product quality, and the strength and creativity of its management. “Our customer service, our understanding of industrial cutting tools, and the quality that we can achieve on site are some of our strengths,” he says, noting that being able to keep about 95 percent of production in-house gives the company significant control over its own needs.
“We get to be very creative on a daily basis because we’re always trying to be better, and more efficient — and we always have more work that we can deal with, all from word-of-mouth marketing.”
Alcon’s overarching goal for ever-greater efficiency led to the purchase in 2017 of the RADAN CAD/CAM solution, by Vero Software, which is designed specifically for the processing of sheet metal products. The decision to implement the software was linked to the purchase of a 2D laser, the programming of which required a powerful solution.
“RADAN was able to beat everyone else with an average of 10 percent better sheet utilization. We were hoping to get 1 or 2 percent, but 10 percent was a huge jump forward.”Dan DeBellis, engineer
“We decided to bring our 2D laser cutting in house and part of that process was having a robust nesting software system,” DeBellis says. “We found what we felt were the top three nesting companies out there today and ran them through a range of tests to see which software could nest most efficiently.”
Each of Alcon’s contenders was tasked with programming and nesting a complex, asymmetrical, semi-sickle-shaped part. “To nest it, you really have to come up with some creative solutions,” DeBellis says. “RADAN was able to beat everyone else with an average of 10 percent better sheet utilization. We were hoping to get 1 or 2 percent, but 10 percent was a huge jump forward. On top of that, it had a very efficient nest in under 10 seconds.”
DeBellis notes that any boost in sheet utilization can quickly add up to considerable savings due to high sheet costs. “If we can save 10 percent, that is a huge advantage for us, but it can often save us even more than that. Our new projected savings is 10 to 20 percent in our sheet purchasing.”
In addition to the strength of RADAN’s nesting engine, the team at Alcon was in search of a solution that’s easy to learn and to use, and that would enable shop floor staff to more easily multitask. “We wanted usability for operators to be able to nest while running another machine, and without needing to have a PhD in manufacturing to accomplish that.”
While one of RADAN’s strengths in the generation of highly efficient nests, the system’s built-in flexibility enables users to edit any nest, which ensures that the user retains control.
“Automatic nesting is a better way of nesting than I could ever do myself, but occasionally I go in and change them,” DeBellis says. “That was something that RADAN’s competitors didn’t offer: the ability to modify an existing nest. You couldn’t change anything, but had to either take it or leave it. For us, flexibility is key.”
RADAN created efficient nests by analyzing the true shape, material and thickness of all components in a batch, separating and sorting automatically to produce high utilization, manufacturable nests from sheets, off-cuts and remnants.
“We did our homework and went with a company that would be a home run for us,” DeBellis says. “It was just time to step up to the plate and hit that home run, and we are very impressed with how we’re able to get to usable products with RADAN.”
Being able to rapidly create nests and see a return on investment was vital for Alcon, so it was important that the company had the support it needed to quickly put RADAN to use. DeBellis says that the company had the support it required to fully utilize the new solution.
“The training process was really thorough and robust, and it made it seamless for us as a company to go from not nesting to cutting products that we’re able to sell,” he says. “For us at Alcon, having a salesperson that we can develop a relationship with is very important, and we were very aware that we were moving forward with the support that we were looking for.”
About the Company
Name: Alcon Tool
Business: Industrial Cutting Tool Manufacturer
- An average of 10 percent better sheet utilization, as well as projected savings of 10 to 20 percent in sheet purchasing
- Ability to generate efficient nests in under ten seconds
- Programming flexibility, including the ability to modify existing nests
“RADAN was able to beat everyone else with an average of 10 percent better sheet utilization. We were hoping to get 1 or 2 percent, but 10 percent was a huge jump forward.”
Dan DeBellis, engineer
**Article first ran in all five editions of Manufacturing News in November of 2018**