Plasma Technology

Consider the angles

By Gretchen Salois

SigmaNest adapted its software so Jeffrey Machine could test run all four sides of plate before cutting to ensure the proper alignment.

Running a ghost border allows one shop to test for the proper alignment before the cut

April 2016 - Clean, exact and repeatable cuts with minimal scrap are de rigeur these days in automated cutting processes. Going a step further, the ability to have part nesting software test a layout prior to cutting removes steps and additional time needed for workers to manually measure and mark material. Plus, less material handling speeds production flow and curtails human error.

Jeffrey Machine Inc. uses SigmaNest software on its two Messer 400 amp high-definition plasma tables, which are connected together for a total of 14 ft. wide by 80 ft. long cutting space with a dry vacuum slagger table. The company burns two to three truckloads of plate every week, with each truckload containing about 45,000 lbs. of material ranging from 1⁄4 in. to 2 in. thick.

Kris Bailey, processing account manager at the Birmingham, Alabama, company, turned to the software developer for help determining correct plate setup and cut readiness. “I did not understand why I had never seen a nesting program that was capable of test running all four sides of the plate on the table before cutting to assure proper plate alignment,” he says, recalling his initial conversation with SigmaNest’s program manager Bruce Renfro. 

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Jeffrey Machine burns two to three truckloads of plate every week, each truck containing 45,000 lbs. of material ranging from 1⁄4 in. to 2 in. thick.

SigmaNest software—from SigmaTek Systems LLC in Cincinnati—works with plasma, laser, oxy fuel, waterjet, press brake, router, punch, knife and tube processes. SigmaNest boasts 18,000 installations internationally, all serviced by a robust team of mathematicians and engineers. At Fabtech 2015, the company introduced SigmaNest X1, which improves CNC punch, laser and plasma machine functionality. It features multi-sheet nesting, better yields, the ability to control all machines from one place, and smart machine programming.

Previously, Bailey would set a cut sequence for part numbers one, two, three and four toward each corner of a piece of plate. “Then the operator would have to test run the four parts to assure proper plate alignment and return to start,” he says. The process would take anywhere from five to 10 minutes. “Bruce said he hadn’t been asked that question, but it made sense.”

Renfro wrote a simple program and installed it into Bailey’s plasma machine, allowing it to automatically produce “what we call a ghost border in test run mode,” explains Bailey. “This allows you to test run all four sides of the plate and to check for proper plate alignment, and then returns to the start point of the program—a process that takes less than two minutes at the table.”

Favorable features

SigmaNest’s many features drew Jeffrey Machine to the system. The software creates customer reports, a paper copy of the nest that is sent to the shop, and is customizable to job needs. “You can add production time, material utilization, job numbers, part numbers, weights—the list of options is endless,” Bailey says. “Your operator will have all the necessary information on one of those sheets of paper right in front of him.”

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Jeffrey Machine uses SigmaNest software on its two Messer 400 amp high-definition plasma tables.

Crop cutting allows workers to auto crop or manually crop remnants for later use. “SigmaNest is the only software I have operated that is capable of storing the remnant size and shape in inventory,” Bailey says, who has spent the last 12 years nesting or as a processing manager for CNC equipment during his 25 years in the fabricating business. “Previously we would have to redraw the odd shaped drops before nesting.”

The bevel function is executed with the push of a button. “The average bevel cutting table is probably only used for beveling 10 to 20 percent of the time,” Bailey says, adding Jeffrey Machine bevels 90 percent of everything cut on its table. “We currently have two bevel tables. We have been beveling for almost 10 years.”

Hole cutting parameters are very precise and consistent using SigmaNest, says Bailey. During a continuous cutting process, the I-Pierce function, which burns a small loop on the side of each part, becomes the next start point for each consecutive part. “This completely eliminates the need for piercing except for the first initial pierce,” Bailey says. “All remaining parts in the nest can be started from this open loop, which saves time, consumable life, and scrap material due to much tighter nesting.”

Bolt hole quality (BHQ) is a SigmaNest-specific module that allows plasma users to program any high-definition plasma system on the market, including any power supplies that require advanced command messaging in the program heads to adjust gases, voltage, etc., says Jandre TerreBlanche, director of corporate strategy and marketing for SigmaNest. The software’s I-Pierce technology is a proprietary pierce reduction technique that ultimately increases consumable lifespan. “It essentially creates small loops in the tool path that will serve as start points for subsequent parts, allowing the plasma system to use edge start, rather than a pierce.” 

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SigmaNest software helps keep track of remnant sizes and shapes in inventory.


Software is a fluid product, and updates are a natural part of the ever-advancing process. SigmaTek releases new builds of SigmaNest (service packs) every 90 days. Users on subscription are eligible for immediate upgrades to the latest release at no additional cost, says TerreBlanche. “This is an indefinite arrangement,” he says. “You can continue to be on subscription forever and always be on the latest version.

“We also cater to customers in unique situations,” he continues. “Military contractors, companies in remote locations, or other government-regulated entities are provided a more traditional physical license tied to a single version.” Having open network connectivity isn’t always an option so SigmaNest works with customers in these types of circumstances to make sure any updates are given under the necessary conditions.

SigmaNest’s software upgrades change to meet evolving needs of Jeffrey Machine. “If they find a solution to a problem for one customer, they will add the new function to their software package and current customers will receive these updates at no charge,” Bailey says, adding having software “that continually gets better” allows the company to continue to move forward. FFJ



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