New Versalis Leather Cutter Offers Speed, Flexibility and Waste Reduction

By Jordan Speer, Editor in Chief — January 18, 2013

Cows may want to team up with their counterparts in the Chick-Fil-A commercials to start a whole new campaign: "Wear Mor Chikin."

With three cutting heads, integrated smart services technology that monitors for problems, productivity from 9,000 to 16,000 pieces per 7.5 hours, automatic flaw recognition and a multi- conveyor belt that carries leather pieces from beginning to end — Lectra's new Versalis is the fastest leather-cutting solution in the industry, according to the company.

On the other hand, perhaps the cows need not worry at all. The Versalis is also designed to maximize leather savings by using automatic nesting software that adjusts parameters for each hide, by performing simulations for leather consumption, and by automatically respecting leather and customer nesting restraints. Features such as high-speed reciprocating blades for cutting very intricate shapes also help maximize savings by ensuring higher quality pieces that make it through to the manufacturing process the first time around. The Versalis also saves energy, using 40 percent less power than its predecessor.

Tools for battling margin pressure and intense competition
Introduced to the North American market at an official launch event last month at Lectra's U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, the Versalis is the latest in the company's wide portfolio of solutions — including Modaris for pattern making, grading and 3D prototyping, and DiaminoFashion for markermaking — geared toward improving productivity, decreasing waste and ultimately developing products that the customer wants.

"Today, most retailers face ever-increasing pressure on margins and evolving competition, with everyone trying to increase market and wallet share," said Roy Shurling, president of Lectra's U.S. division, addressing a group of attendees representing the automotive, furniture and apparel industries.

"To stay on top, timing is everything. You need to be able to anticipate and develop products your customers want ahead of the competition," Shurling added. Customers want everything, they want it now, and they want variety, customization and quality, he said, which requires tools that will provide a sustainable competitive advantage. Since 2007, Shurling noted, Lectra reinvested $120 million of its $286 million in revenue into R&D.

The travels of a hide through a Versalis cutter
The Versalis is a solution suite, comprising the massive 32.7-foot cutting machine and integrated software that includes a scanner and digitizer for recording the flaws and prime spots of a hide, nesting software designed to use as much of a hide as possible, operating software for reporting and other functions and smart services that permit preventive maintenance and remote support from Lectra.

Unlike rolls of fabric, hides, like snowflakes, are each unique. While rolls of fabric are woven or knit to specific size, and can often be stacked in plies that can be cut simultaneously, each hide presents its own unique size, shape and specific flaws in the grain of the leather. The smooth area over the back of the cow tends to offer the fewest flaws and the best large pieces, while the area around the belly and legs tends to have more flaws (cows get nicked on barbed wire or other protrusions, for example) and produce smaller pieces.

Because no two hides are the same, it is necessary to scan or mark each separately and to create a separate nesting plan for each. In the first stage of the process, the hide is laid on the hide repositioning area of the Versalis where it can either be automatically scanned by two linear scanners that can detect pre-marked flaws and hide outlines (and which have no limitations relative to hide size, color or leather type) or it can be marked and automatically digitized with a worker using an electronic pen. (The process is auditory, e.g., the software talks to the worker so he or she does not have to look away from the hide and up at the screen while marking, which speeds the process considerably.)

Next, the software uses sophisticated automated nesting algorithms to work out a nesting plan that best utilizes that particular hide. (The newest autonest feature provides a 5 percent savings in leather vs. manual nesting, Lectra reports.) Integrated "Pilot" software also configures the cutting head paths for optimal quality and productivity. The hide is now ready for cutting, and is conveyed automatically toward the center of the machine. Vice president of manufacturing sales Paul Epperson notes that the new multi-conveyor belt alone has improved productivity considerably by eliminating the need for humans to move the hides.

Cutting by the Versalis is faster and more precise than it was with previous editions of the leather cutter. Improved speed has come from three heads (vs. one) and from better cutting path algorithms. Leather savings have increased, not only because of better algorithms, but also because of improved high-speed reciprocating knife blades that cut the leather so precisely that pieces can be nested tangentially. In other words, there is no need to leave a "buffer" between pieces.

Finally, operators are guided through the offloading process by another screen mounted on the offloader that identifies which pieces are which (i.e. sleeves, body, etc.), and allows the operators to separate the pieces efficiently; rather than scooping them all into one bin which would require re-identification of the pieces later in the production process, the work is performed simultaneously with the offloading process.

Throughout, the Versalis is busy monitoring itself via sensors that feed data to the software, which analyzes it for potential problems. The Versalis is the first leather cutter to be equipped with this smart services technology, says Epperson, which allows problems to be identified and preventive maintenance to be performed — onsite or remotely — before problems cause deterioration in cutting quality or productivity slowdowns. "This means the Versalis is always up and running," he says.

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.

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