Panel Craftsmen stand in front of the MC-80. From left: Zach Fothergill, David Ferrara, Edgar Audelo, Garrett Huff, Morgan Burris, Ryan Stephenson and Brock Atkinson.

Panel Craftsmen stand in front of the MC-80. From left: Zach Fothergill, David Ferrara, Edgar Audelo, Garrett Huff, Morgan Burris, Ryan Stephenson and Brock Atkinson.

By Zach Fothergill

We’ve been running the new eCAB ModCenter 80 machine for a little more than four months. (This piece of German technology allows our panel shop to complete panel projects quickly and more accurately by shortening the time we lay out and drill holes in the panels. It's the only MC-80 in the Rocky Mountain region.) I thought it would be a good idea to give an update on what the machine has allowed us to do and the ways in which it’s changed our shop processes and output.

Once a Stranger, Now a Friend
When the MC-80 was first uncrated, I was intimidated by it. It’s an expensive, complex piece of technology and I was tasked with heading up its integration into our already very busy panel shop. I also was in charge of building out the machine’s library of designs (also called “symbols”) in CAD, so that was another piece of the puzzle I had to learn.

Four months in, the MC-80 is now a known part of the shop’s daily life. I don’t have to worry about “breaking” it; I also know the machine’s quirks which include German engineering that is just a little different than how we do things in America. I’m comfortable designing, operating and letting the MC-80 do its thing while my team works on other tasks.

We Do Things Faster
Initially, I thought that I would pick and choose which projects to use on the MC-80. And we did do that in the beginning. Now, every job runs through the machine, unless it’s too large to fit. Even very small jobs, the kind where I initially thought, “Oh, it’s too little to bother with. We’ll just have a guy drill it manually,” goes through the machine. A recent small job took about three minutes to program and five minutes to drill. Meanwhile, my team did other things.

In the past, that small job would take one shop craftsman thirty minutes. So, added up all together, as we’ve become more fluent with the CAD design, the shop is saving time on each job, no matter how large or small.

My Team Is Learning New Technology, Too
At first, it was assumed that I would be the only one to really work on the machine for perhaps the first year. Four months in, my team is ready to take on new challenges. I have six people working on my team and three to four of them are heavily involved in learning and operating the machine. As a manager, this really pleases me. I want my employees to have access to more advanced technology training. We don’t stand still around here.

Neat Things Happen with the MC-80
I love this story. We built a panel, it was delivered and installed. Then the customer wanted to add a handful of components in the field. Normally, this would take two guys a lot of labor intensive work, with a lot of lifting and measuring. Instead, we went back into the MC-80’s library of designs and pulled up the project. We added the new drill holes where they needed to be, and sent a piece of metal through the machine to be drilled. This piece of metal became a template that could be used to make the new adjustments. Then one employee went into the field, and using the template the MC-80 drilled, completed the new adjustments.

Our Library of Symbols Grows Each Day
At first, we created symbols as we were taught by our German trainers. Then, as we gained more knowledge and experience, I began to make our designs a little more differently. Our collection has grown to hundreds of symbols, all neatly categorized into sub-categories. I’m really proud of the library; it’s one aspect of the new machine that surprised me: we create and work on more designs than I realized. And they all live right inside the MC-80. It’s a living repository of our work.

Zach is Operations Support Manager at UCEC.

 

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