Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Expediting cost estimation of laser cutting

Sheet metal manufacturers spend much of their time preparing project bids. EU funding enabled researchers to develop an automated costing system to make the process faster and more reliable.
Expediting cost estimation of laser cutting
In small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer technical staff, the proposal preparation process takes valuable time from the actual technical work of design and production.

Given that the probability of an award is often small due to competition from larger companies, the inability to work on projects that have already been awarded has even greater negative impact on productivity.

European researchers sought to create an automated cost estimation tool for laser cutting of three-dimensional (3D) pieces. The ‘Individually configurable automatic cost calculation system for 3-d laser cutting’ (Icacost) project was designed to support the proposal process and enhance the competitiveness of SMEs in the sheet metal industry.

The consortium developed a 3D viewer compatible with various computer-aided design (CAD) formats. The viewer facilitated selection of contours for cutting after which the laser cutting paths were automatically configured. Thus, use of the 3D viewer enabled a complete work description for a certain part.

Defined tool paths also led to calculation of an index to be used in estimating manufacturing expenditures for a given workpiece. Continued work will make the process of estimating machining time and fixture costs automatic.

The Icacost cost calculation tool consisted of a database of inquiries, offers, orders and post-calculated orders (actual costs on completion). The system thus enabled calculation of cost per workpiece and total cost per offer with the potential to do a quick check against previous offers and against similar completed work.

Icacost’s novelty of three tools in one (3D viewer, index generator and cost calculator) enabled quick and reliable cost estimation for proposal bids. The system was easy and reliable even when used by those with less technical knowledge such as sales personnel.

Further modifications to the Icacost system include direct connection of machine parameters to machine time-calculating algorithms for optimal costing.

Overall, Icacost should make a tremendous impact on the time and allocation of human resources – and ultimately on success of project bids – for SMEs in the sheet metal industry.

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