An Interview with Pierre Slabber

Pierre Slabber is a veteran of more than twenty-five years in the fabrication software industry. His professional background has included software development, managing product development and serving as Vice President of Engineering.  In these roles Pierre was responsible for the enhancement and ongoing development of next generation CAD/CAM nesting and related applications.   More recently Pierre was the chief architect behind one of the industry’s leading nesting programs. Today Pierre is Founder and President of SecturaSoft LLC. 

Can you give us a brief introduction to SecturaSoft? What’s the company all about; and why did you make the jump?

After twenty-five years in the nesting software business it was time for a change.  Over the past few years I recognized that there was a real need emerging in the industry – especially among smaller service centers, fab shops and job shops.  While CAD/CAM, nesting, CRM and other business applications were steadily advancing, the integration of these systems was lacking. The truth is that many of these tools, although robust in their own rite, don’t communicate with one another.  Not just on the shop floor… from the front office to the loading dock - these systems must be integrated across the board. Until that happens, those employing them will not realize the full return on their investments.

Companies today need open-ended solutions… that is the freedom to choose tools that meet unique needs and budget without being locked in to a specific vendor – solutions developed specifically for the metal fabrication industry. With this in mind we began working to create a web-based quoting and production management solution that could be easily integrated with a company’s existing CRM, CAD/CAM, nesting and financial programs. Perhaps more importantly we wanted to establish a genuine reputation for quality, integrity and trust throughout the fabrication industry.

Regarding the fabrication industry… What are some noteworthy advancements you’ve seen recently?

Intelligent CAD models have been around for quite some time; but in the past few years fabricators and job shops have begun to leverage the information stored in CAD files to create more accurate quotes. Geometry-based quoting brings with it a number of advantages and has had a measurable impact for those who are taking advantage of it.  At the same time, nesting applications pretty much across the board continue to get better and better.

Let’s begin with geometry-based quoting. Can you expand on this?

In the past, quoting processes were for the most part based on experience and best-guesses. The process was riddled with manual, calculation-intensive steps, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Basing quotes on gut feel rather than on standard rules creates a number of problems as the quoting process, and final bid itself, often varied greatly from one salesperson to the next.  Furthermore most of these quotes were being generated using a simple Excel spreadsheet.  This often created a nightmare for locating and retrieving past data.  Again, a very manual, subjective, and time consuming process. Perhaps worst of all, one could never be certain that a quote will be profitable.

Geometry-based quoting replaces guesswork with known variables. It uses part geometry to determine the type and amount of material needed, machine run-time, secondary operations and all other costs associated with producing the parts.  This allows sales to create accurate quotes that convert to production instructions, and ultimately to an invoice.  In this way fabricators will know immediately how much profit a winning bid will bring them.

You mentioned nesting.  How important is a good piece of nesting software?

Nesting software is the key for anyone who cuts metal for a living. It drives fabrication machinery and maximizes yield.  Without this piece of software cutting, punching, bending machines are just costly equipment taking up space on the shop floor. 

What should one look for in a nesting system?

Fortunately the nesting software industry has evolved to the point where a number of good and affordable systems are readily available.  Today nearly all nesting program are easy to learn and use and more than capable of delivering good results. Because the basic functionality is pretty much the same across the board, fabricators can select a nesting program based on their budget along with current and expected requirements. Having said that, I would add that it is critical that the nesting application integrates with in-house business systems.  In this way the production staff can manage production routings and monitor the progress of orders that are being manufactured. The financial staff is notified when orders need to be invoiced and given the ability to create these invoices. At the same time the integrated process examines inventory to determine if enough stock is available to complete the job. Up-to-the minute material pricing is accessed to calculate costs for any additional material that might be needed. Furthermore, the process boosts efficiency and profitability by allowing work orders to be combined to fully utilize material and production run-time and costs.

What is the single biggest challenge facing fabricators today?

Fabricators have over the years learned to adapt to changing conditions.  During the economic downturn of 2008, the industry began to take a closer look at all areas of the business in order to become more lean and efficient.  For fabricators, the microscope was on the shop floor and its costly equipment and inventory. Anything that did not contribute to making the company more efficient was cut.  As a result manual and redundant tasks were automated and processes streamlined.

Today this presents an opportunity for these companies to gain real-time visibility in order to know the exact status of any and every order at any given time.  Those who get the orders out the fastest get the work.  Visibility is the single biggest challenge and opportunity for the fabrication industry today.

Don’t MRP systems provide this?

To a very limited extent. Fabricators should look for an MRP system that has been developed specifically for the industry.  This is the key.  An MRP system created for our industry should include capabilities for geometry-based quoting, have built-in nesting functionality, along with built-in material optimization capabilities. Most importantly, the system must seamlessly integrate with your nesting program of choice.  This allows all of the information pertaining to an order to be seamlessly linked to the entire company – from production, front office, to sales, and financial. 

What’s next? What do you see as the next frontier for fabricators?

I believe that sooner than later we’re going to achieve a reliable and affordable data highway delivering real-time visibility across the company and throughout its supply chain. With the Internet and Cloud we now have the foundation for that will allow us to access any information, from any place at any time.  Believe it or not, this isn’t so far away.

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