How do you make a big safari tent designed in Archi-cad or Rhino or any other CAD program that has multiple complex shapes cut out of pre-sewn 3m x 5m panels? How do you make 28 of these seven-panel tents quickly, accurately, and on schedule with a dozen other contractors working in the Masai Mara?? How do you start another order in the middle of this job???
In Nairobi, Kenya, if you start asking all these questions, they might say, “Don’t give me your monkey!”
However, at Carlson Design, we asked for it! To solve ByDesign’s automation challenges, we built our widest system to date — a WT-174″ Plotter/Cutter and turnkey installation.
On the eve of their 10th year in operation, ByDesign of Nairobi, Kenya has a growing reputation for producing beautiful large, custom, high quality tent camps. And, as word continues to spread, they are once again looking to double last year’s sales figures.
When Jan Allan, the owner and founder, originally built his new facility his friends and family teased him about its enormous size. “Har, Har — is that a monument to your ego?” one friend jabbed. But sure enough, his vision took root and now he would love to have a building 3X larger.
To meet their growing demand without cutting into the bush, they decided to expanded vertically, building a 75m2 mezzanine to house their marking and cutting.
With added space, their sewers had more room to work. But a new bottleneck was created in the cutting department. Only their lead sewer, Joshua, had the experience to scale and transfer detailed CAD drawings to their pre-sewn panels ready for cutting and marking.
Marking and cutting was a very specialized job requiring skilled tradesman to spend hours on the floor marking patterns with a piece of chalk. This limited throughput, the size of job Jan was willing to quote, the number panels Joshua could supervise cut, and the complexity of drawings their lead designer, Maxim, could draw.
Advantages of Automating their Marking and Cutting:
- Saves time
- Increases complexity of panels they can draw and cut
- Improves product repeatability and product quality
- Decreases waste
- Simplifies marking and cutting to an entry level position
- Speeds sewing because cuts are straighter
- Allows them to take on different cutting jobs for covers, clothing, and enclosures
WHY GET SUCH A WIDE SYSTEM?
In order to make large roof and body panels for engineered fabric structures that maintain even tension and straight seams across multiple panels, ByDesign cuts their final shapes out of smaller pre-sewn panels. These panels are typically broken in 4m wide or narrower sections – so, Jan wanted a system that could mark and cut 4m panels and/or material. However, if given the opportunity, he probably would have gone wider — eventually deciding against it due to space limitations.
With the cutter, it now takes just 3 minutes to mark and cut a 3M x 5M roof panel with curved edges. Cycle time from start to finish is under 13 minutes — which includes loading, spreading, and folding material. That’s down from an hour or more to do each panel by hand.
FOR THE FIRST JOB THEY WILL REDUCE CUT TIME BY 153 HOURS. THAT’S ALMOST 1 MONTH.
Correctly designing a tent pattern is a BIG deal. Studying the loads and tension at different panel connections, Maxim determined they were unintentionally introducing weakness and sag into their shapes tents. Using computer modeling, he was able to change the curve of the cut line and then quickly and accurately cut a new test panel on their Carlson Plotter/Cutter.
Using the correct techniques for sending plot/cut lines to your plotter/cutter is also a BIG deal. During the design process, we showed Maxim how to modify his plotting path to reduce plot time by 13 minutes for each panel. This two hour redesign took half the morning, BUT it will reduce the marking time for the whole job by 42 hours! Well worth the upfront investment.
Straighter cuts and cleaner seam lines also mean faster sewing times. They started using their Plotter/Cutter to mark and slit PVC rolls in 6m long lengths. These straight cuts help keep the panels square, speeding up layup, assembly, and sewing.
After examining time savings, Jan thought his plotter/cutter would pay for at least half it’s cost in the first two weeks! That’s just one job!
That’s why when they were debating whether or not to build their own vacuum table, install their own system, OR get a turn-key setup from Carlson Design, they opted to have us do everything. This is a pretty interesting idea. They have a metal fab shop, built their own building, and added the new Mezzanine — So why not build their own vacuum table or install their own plotter/cutter which would have been much easier than erecting a new workshop?
Why — because they are busy. They purchased the Carlson Design WT-174″ Plotter/Cutter to eliminate a bottle neck in their production, not create a new one. When we arrived, they were in the middle of production and excited to cut REAL jobs as on their plotter/cutter as soon as we would give them the green light. We were able to make our FIRST CUT BY 3PM ON THE FIRST DAY!
How — because they set up their Phillocraft vacuum table and installed their vacuum blowers BEFORE we arrived.
Maxim and Jan both have a good grasp of Computer Aided Design (CAD). Our job during the installation was to help them understand how to import, optimize, and then plot/cut those CAD drawings using the Carlson software and a Carlson Plotter/Cutter.
We began by taking a real job file, importing it into Plotmaster, optimizing it in PEdit, and then marking and cutting on real material. There was a risk that we would ruin this more expensive “real” material instead of using scrap, but as Jan said, “If something is going to go wrong, we want it to go wrong while you’re here.” With each panel set we cut they were better able to explain what they needed and we were in a better position to show them how to do it.
In addition to training, we were also filling orders!
By the end of the second day, Maxim was ready to cut a full tent set for test assembly. Jan had invited us to join him at the job site in the Masai Mara, so we left Maxim to continue cutting and making a list of questions, while we headed out into the wild to learn more about how they make their tents.
After seeing the job site, we began discussing the wide variety of products and materials they could cut with their plotter/cutter. These included patches, leather, mesh, velcro, car covers, seat covers, uniforms, and enclosures.
The first thing we test cut was a 4 meter wide roll of mesh. The mesh is delivered folded in half — leaving a wrinkle down the center of the table. Because the mesh is porous, we cannot vacuum it during cut without a plastic film. But, by taping the edges, slowing down the machine, and using a new sharp blade, we can accurately cut mesh with limited shift.
Items they have decided to add:
- Carlson Drag blade to cut leather
- Carlson Hot Knife to cut velcro
- Carlson T-Bar digitizer to digitize patterns
- (Soon) Carlson Plasma to cut steel plate
Once you start automating, it’s addictive. With the success of tent cutting (their primary objective) running smoothly, they have started looking for increased functionality. In the future they will use our Hot Knife to cut velcro, a drag blade to cut leather, and our T-Bar Digitizer to trace existing apparel and canvas patterns.
Remember — if your plotter/cutter is moving, it means you are making money!
Below are pictures and notes from our assembly. Setting up an ultra-wide cutting system requires a good eye for detail. These tricks and tips can help you decide if you would like to try setting up your own system or having us out to help you get started.
We’d like to give a HUGE thanks to Jan, his lovely wife Erin, Maxim, Joshua, Thomas, Miyia, and Nicolas. What an an amazing team and one of our favorite installations to-date. We look forward to seeing the amazing products you all design, cut, sew, and install!
Till next time! “Thumbs Up”!