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  • Photonics Accelerates Truss-Building

Photonics Spectra
Aug 1998
Ruth A. Mendonsa

At a South Carolina-based truss-building facility, a trio comprising computer software, lasers and "cybersaws" has eliminated three problems: poor throughput, high employee turnover and inefficient setup procedures. Boozer Lumber Co. had 54 employees working 20 hours a day, six days a week in two shifts and on six production lines, and it still was unable to meet the industry standard time for building trusses.

With a new computer-controlled laser projection system and "cybersaw," efficiency at this truss-building company has increased 295 percent.

The company turned to the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership for help, where manufacturing specialist Ed Buck performed time studies on the company's existing tools and technologies. His agency formed a partnership with Boozer Lumber, MiTek Industries Inc. of St. Louis and VirTek Vision International to build a prototype fabrication system. The resulting equipment produced a 295 percent increase in layout efficiency.

Human error

The biggest problem the truss builders faced was human error. It is imperative that the blueprints for a structure be followed exactly. With the old setup, the plans had to pass through many hands and were interpreted by a variety of people. In addition, the laborers had to have six months of training to get the basic math and blueprint skills they needed, and the turnover rate was high because of the low pay scale.

The team found the answer in computer software that controls the saws that cut the lumber and projects a laser template of the blueprints onto the lumber on the fabrication tables.

The computer uses the data file to automatically set up the saw's blade angles, and with the push of a button the operator cuts the lumber. The computer file with the drawings then goes to a series of projection heads placed over the fabrication table. The projected blueprints show the stops and outline of the truss for assembly. No tape measure or interpretation of the drawings is required.

The two greatest benefits of the system are that it accurately communicates the intent of the engineering design, eliminating interpretation error, and it allows truss builders to become productive in only two days. The company is now down to one shift, 28 employees and four production lines, and has increased the business by 30 percent. The company expects a 60 percent increase in business per month by year end.

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