Blogger: FabTrol - Brian Williams

FabTrol Insights

Thoughts and insights from our General Manager

FabTrol - Brian Williams
Brian Williams has spent his adult life working in steel fabrication and technology. Starting as a grinder/wire brush operator in college he worked as a fitter, CNC programmer, production control manager, and VP of Operations for a 4-shop industrial plate and structural fabricator. At FabTrol he has delivered training and implementation services to some of FabTrol's largest customers and designed software as FabTrol's Product Manager. Today, he continues to work in product management and serves as the General Manager of FabTrol Systems.

Do you know how many assemblies (shipmarks, weldments) are left to fit or weld on that important sequence?

What about the lead person in your welding or shipping bay?  How much does he know about the work he is planning this week?  Is it easy for your Project Manager to find out if an important assembly or sequence will make it to the jobsite on time?

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Tracking standard parts like clip angles and base plates in a job shop

Here’s another way that FabTrol does more to simplify tracking what materials are covered on your projects.

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Coming soon in FabTrol Pro 2.0: Nest Flat Bar into Plate

We know that you sometimes cut flat bar parts out of plate.  Now FabTrol makes it easy to manage this without modifying the bill of materials.  Start with our linear nesting engine to use up existing flat bar stock. Then, on your next plate nest, turn on the option to include flat bar.  FabTrol will track what is and isn't nested and automatically add the remaining flat bar to the plate nest.  FabTrol will maintain full traceability from flat bar parts in the bill of materials to the flat bar or plate material used to produce them.

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FabTrol and CSD services to demonstrate why you never need to log that you sent a drawing Out for Approval

At this year's SDS/2 User Group conference, FabTrol's own Sara Melendrez and David Barajas of CDS Services will show why CSD abandoned a previous software solution in favor of FabTrol Rev.

They will demonstrate how drawings you send Out for Approval on a transmittal are:

  • automatically logged as Out for Approval
  • automatically packaged for your FTP site
  • easily selected and split between statuses like "Approved" and "Revisions Required" when they come back from approval

This sort of automation works for any transmittal (or receipt) purpose you define.  For example, it can automatically log that the File copy of erection drawings was sent to the General Contractor.

Sara and David will also show how RFI emails can be logged via drag and drop and how answers to RFIs can also be logged just by dragging an email into Rev.  If you're attending the SDS/2 conference on Thursday, the 11th, we hope you'll take the time to see how easy all of this can be.

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Erection Estimates a Hassle? Model not ready? Too difficult to import? Not anymore.

Erectors rarely want to use steel fabrication management software to estimate erection because it requires dealing with too many tasks and variables that have nothing to do with their goal of quickly arriving at the cost to erect a structure.

Erectors often feel like they are wasting time when they:

  • Have to deal with material definition issues (you call it A992, I call it A-992) during import of the KISS or other file from the model.
  • Or have to do tedious line by line input of information the steel fabricator needs but the erector doesn’t really care about.

FabTrol’s new low-cost software, FabTrol Shop changes all of this.

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FabTrol Rev user, Jon Decausemaker, to demonstrate value of FabTrol's automatic drawing log

At FabTrol’s 2012 Get Connected event, Jon Decausemaker, of Decausemaker Steel Detailing, will share how he uses FabTrol Rev’s automated drawing log.  He will demonstrate how sending a transmittal, receiving a transmittal or releasing drawings for fabrication can automatically trigger a status change to design, erection or fabrication drawings and how easy it is to setup FabTrol Rev’s drawing logs to reflect the changes that are important to you.  We hope you will attend this year’s event from September 12-14 and hear Jon’s presentation and talk to other users about how they are using FabTrol technology to streamline and automate their processes.

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Simple yet powerful estimating with FabTrol's low-cost steel fabrication software, FabTrol Shop

FabTrol development just added a powerful estimating summary form to FabTrol Shop, our low-cost, easy to use steel fabrication estimating and management software.  FabTrol shop already supported estimating material, paint and labor costs for steel fabrication projects. With FabTrol development's recent enhancments you can you can now calculate freight and you can address buyouts like detailing, joist and deck, Finally you can review all costs by category and apply a different series of markups to each category.

We've also improved the material pricing form for estimates.  It continues to leverage steel and other material prices that are automatically collected by the purchasing system. Now you can adjust those within a given estimate--once for each type/size and grade and you can optionally save pricing for use on the next estimate.  Plus we've covered price exceptions--you can selected a line in the BOM and make a "this line only" material price change if it's a piece of steel you are buying cut to length or processed by the steel service center.

For more on FabTrol Shop, visit veryeasytouse.com

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Connect with FabTrol partners, users and staff, September 12-14, 2012

Get Connected 2012 is only a few weeks away.  Plan to attend if you want to see what's new in FabTrol Pro and what's on the horizon.  It's also a great opportunity to meet FabTrol staff, talk to other steel fabricators who use FabTrol and talk to equipment, detailing and other vendors who's tools and software integrate with FabTrol.

In addition to FabTrol Pro’s growing list of Purchasing, Stock, Shipping and Drawing Management features, we’ll show you why FabTrol’s new test certification tracking system is all you need to store MTR’s and meet material traceability requirements. Learn about other new features like how to design reports, save queries or how to use FabTrol Pro's new stock audit process to verify that your physical and virtual stock yards match.  You're also invited to enjoy Casino Night and attend a reception at our new offices at 1 East Broadway.

This is one of the best opportunities each year to get together with other progressive fabricators who use technology to manage and improve their steel fabrication shops.  We hope to see you in Eugene!

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Latest drawing revision, current status and status history automatically logged and instantly available.

Experience the benefits of old school paper and spreadsheet drawing logs without the tedious data entry.

Once upon a time (and to this day in some shops) steel fabricators maintained drawing logs on paper, by hand.  For most fabricators this moved to a spreadsheet but they continued to rely on a human hand to enter every new revision and status-changing action.  While tedious, this delivered huge benefits.  Anyone could find the project notebook (which typically included other information such as RFIs) and discover at a glance what the latest revision was supposed to be and when/whether drawings were sent out for approval and approved. Moving into the 90’s the spreadsheet version could be accessed on the network or at least shared via email so no one had to leave their desk or ask for the book to be delivered to their physical in-box.

FabTrol Pro automatically updates the status of drawing revisions as they are imported and based on the purpose for which they are transmitted and received.  You go about the business of importing the drawings and subsequent revisions, and sending and receiving them for various purposes.  FabTrol Pro automatically logs the impact of these actions, noting when revisions occurred and automatically updating drawing statuses as your communication indicates this is appropriate. FabTro Pro makes all of this available at a glance in an easy to use drawing log, automatically providing the old school value without concerns about whether or not someone remembered to update the log.

This functionality is also available to steel detailers in FabTrol Rev.

To learn more about how simple it is to manage drawings and communication with the engineer, architect, customer, general contractor and your sub-contractors, watch the following video: FabTrol Instant Access.

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Managing conflicts in grade callouts (or A-992 vs A992)

Proper management of material grades is one of the most important features in your material management software.  Grades should always be included in the import and your software should quickly and easily “learn” about grade callout conflicts and never bother you about that particular conflict again.

Grade and other material definition conflicts are problems because:

  • Your shop, your detailers, sub-contract detailers and various detailing software don't always define grades in exactly the same way.
  • If you don't import the grade you are always depending on human memory or someone's assumption to keep things straight.
  • Your nesting/multing system won't be as effective if some of your stock is defined as A572-50 and some as A572 Gr. 50; and it's even worse if you allow even  more variations during your bill of materials import.  Optimization engines lack the human skill of recognizing when something that looks different is actually the same thing and will provide inefficient answers when the grades aren't all synchronized.

None of this should pose a problem for your material management software and you shouldn’t accept software that “simplifies” this by ignoring or assuming grades during the import or nesting process—this could cost you thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in back-charges. Your software should screen grades and manage translations during every import. It should be trivial for any user to teach the software a new translation from something like A572.50 or A572 Gr 50 to something like A572-50.

FabTrol MRP and it’s new software, FabTrol Pro and FabTrol Shop:

  • Let you know about the material definition discrepancy (unless you've previously discovered and covered it).
  • Make it easy for even an inexperienced user to teach the software that the new label should be imported as A572-50 (if that's how you choose to call out the grade).
  • And never require a user to define this for the software again; the software learns and adds to its knowledge of type, size and grade callouts during each import, requiring less and less of the user.

FabTrol MRP has always provided easy-to-use translation tools and FabTrol's new software FabTrol Shop and FabTrol Pro can even start out by importing material definitions that match your most common file source.  Still it probably won't match definitions from the next software or detailer. So just define your types/sizes and grades to match ASTM standards (or your most common source of import files) and then you can quickly and easily teach the software about variations as they occur.

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Use remnants before they leave the saw

It's not uncommon for a single remnant to represent hundreds of dollars--and this doesn't include the cost to store, track and retrieve it. This value represents missed opportunities while it's sitting out in the yard rusting; and that value is drastically reduced when you give up and dump it into the scrap bin.

In FabTrol MRP we support creating a virtual rem even before you cut the bar it will eventually come from. This is a popular, well-used feature and allows you to nest into the leftover material before you actually create the physical remnant.

In our new software, FabTrol Pro, we've improved this process. Just add the part(s) to the existing stock bar on the existing cut list (even if the parts are for a different project). This has some nice advantages over the old system:

  • You never create a rem in the system before you have one in the yard.
  • If you use our live feed to the saw the saw operator's cut list is updated in milliseconds.
    • So he cuts the additional parts while the stock bar is loaded on the saw.
    • Without having to coordinate multiple cut lists.

For more advanced multing tips and information on using our new software to manage them, you can download the first white paper from our "Profit vs. Project" series, here.

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Thanks to customers and software/equipment partners who attended Get Connected 2011!

We had a great time this year and it was nice to have all of you here in Eugene.

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Best attendance ever for a FabTrol customer event?

It may break attendance records, but if not, this week's Get Connected event certainly looks to be one of the largest customer events in FabTrol's history.  We're all excited to show everyone the ongoing work to improve FabTrol MRP and the new work we're starting to deliver in FabTrol Pro.

Most of FabTrol's staff work in support, training, research and development--and we're always eager for face-time with people who are using or will use our products.  It will be great to see all of you here in Eugene!

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Quality Tools

My first steel fabrication job paid about $4 per hour.  My boss at the time told me to start buying a few tools.  He said this would distinguish me from other shop employees and the impact on my pay would more than make up for the investment. If you are a fitter, welder or any other craftsmen or aspiring craftsmen working on a shop floor, I assure you that he was onto something.

It wasn't really necessary to tell me to only buy quality tools (my grandfather and uncles had covered that ground)--but he did.  He said it was better to purchase one good tool as I got the money rather than fill my tool box with less expensive look-alikes.  So I paid about $15 for my first adjustable wrench, used it in the harsh environment of the shop floor for years, admittedly used it as a hammer or pry bar a few times, used it in the rain a few times, always cleaned and oiled it afterwards and it is hanging in my garage right now, ready to go. Other than a few spring clamps to hold chalk-lines and the like, I never bought any of the cheaper tools and I rarely bought a tool twice. Neither did any of the other real craftsmen in the shops where I worked.

Later I participated in larger purchases for a couple of shops and we always over-bought.  Compromises were often made on used vs. new and sometimes we only bought one of the machines we were after instead of both. But no owner, operations manager, shop foreman or machine operator advocated the purchase of an off-brand piece of equipment or even the purchase of something that just managed to meet our specs.

Was price a consideration in these decisions?  Always. Still, we knew that eventually we'd want the tool or piece of equipment to do a little more than we'd first imagined. We knew we couldn't afford for it to fail or fall short and we surely didn't want to throw away the initial investment and start over if it did.

You don’t buy a press brake, plasma cutter, drill line or software package to save money on the price of the press brake, plasma cutter, drill line or software.  If that’s your goal--the best savings are achieved by buying nothing at all.  You buy them based on their ability to deliver savings and value every day.

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Steve Jobs said do what you love and taught us that design matters

This morning FabTrol's halls and email inboxes are abuzz with conversations about Steve Jobs and his impact on us and the world. We are saddened by his passing but always encouraged by the power and value of his work and example.

Before Steve Jobs, great designers preached the value of elegant solutions.  They filled books with examples of objects and devices that, once they existed, felt like they were destined to be delivered in that particular way. A few enlightened people learned from this message and appreciated these books.  Then Steve Jobs helped the rest of us catch up and catch on.  He raised popular expectations and let the consumer know that he should expect elegant technology that was easy to learn and delightful to use.

He was raised by uneducated parents, a college drop-out and, in his words, "very publicly fired" from the company he started in his garage.  Here is his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford where he describes the philosophy that helped him connect those and other dots for good purpose in his life.

From that speech,

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart...

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

Everything else is secondary ...

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Get out of the office for a while

Steel fabricators are hands-on types. Many of the people trusted to manage materials, estimating, production and projects have probably spent time working in fab shops or at the job site.  If you work with a few sharp people who deliver value without the advantage of this hands-on experience, encourage them to spend a few days each year in the shop or out in the field with the customers or co-workers who consume their work product.

Steel Day provides the perfect opportunity for this.

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Connect: Spend time with other fabricators who use FabTrol

Fun, Valuable and Low-Cost training and networking October 19-21.

Just a reminder that we're a few weeks from our 2011 Get Connected event where fabricators will receive training on FabTrol MRP as well as the new re-engineered product.  This is your chance to get ahead on training for the new product and, as always, is one of the most fun, valuable and low-cost training opportunities that FabTrol offers.

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Less is more? Yes. When you do less and your steel fabrication management software does more...

We've talked to hundreds of owners and managers who depend on FabTrol to help them make money, and save money, every day. So we know you want software that's easy for your team to learn and provides automatic access to vital information without forcing you to repeatedly set a complicated filter or dig into the details.

This empowers you to make faster, more knowledgeable decisions that can save material and labor costs, prevent mistakes and help you win the next project.

Our dev group continues to deliver this powerful automation. For a glimpse of some of the new tools, including powerful forms that automatically deliver vital information the second they are opened, check out our new YouTube video: FabTrol Does More

FabTrol flags out of date fab drawings.

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New software coming to a town near you...

With so much positive feedback at FabTrol’s NASCC booth, more interest than we could  accommodate at our NASCC software preview lunch and packed webinars after the show, we decided it was time to come to you and share first-hand why everyone is so excited about our new software.

If you’re a steel fabricator and you haven’t seen the software, check out our roadshow stops over the next few months. If you ‘re located near San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago or Denver, a member of our team will be in your area to demonstrate the software and talk to you in person about your specific needs.

Visit http://www.fabtrol.com/new and make your roadshow reservation today.

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Estimating Tools and Tricks

Rex and Randy, two members of our training staff, have put together a list of tools and tricks that will enhance your experience whether you enter or import the bill of material into FabTrol's estimating system.  My favorite is entering the location and type of work in our drawing and phase fields and then using our Phase/Drawing and Drawing/Phase reports to organize the estimate by location then type of work or by type of work then location.

This is just a quick reference to make sure you know about all of the powerful tools that are available to you. You can find the list here in our product support area.  For more detail you can search our help system or call one of our services staff.

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