Panel Layout

Working pretty full on this past week I haven’t had too much of a chance to get into the shop other than to work on a Mega Shoebox for a friend of mine:

The Plywood is a LOT lighter than MDF.

The Plywood is a LOT lighter than MDF.

Made from 15mm Plywood

Made from 15mm Plywood

But that’s ok because I’ve had another woodworking related project anyway.

I’m working on a program to help layout panels on a sheet of plywood to reduce waste and mainly, cost. I know there are a few programs out there already, but quite frankly I don’t like any of them. I find them hard to use, lacking instructions & features or in some cases, having far too many features. The array of options on some of them is bewildering, and to be frank, I know my way around a workshop and a computer pretty well, I should be able to figure out how to use a simple cut list program. They are too confusing for my liking. Plus quite frankly, I like the challenge of building and learning.

The Cutlist plugin for SketchUp is the one I find most useful, but it doesn’t seem to do a good job of optimising the cuts. A lot of the time it creates a cut list which is twice the amount of sheetgoods you actually require. I get my best results using it by setting my sheetgoods to half their actual size, this way it doesn’t waste so much wood. Also it’s a real shame that you can’t move panels around after it lays them out, it would make it a lot more effective. However so long as you set your model up properly, it does a decent job.

I’ve also used this one a few times, Cutlist, but to be honest I find it slow, and hard to navigate and understand. It looks like it does everything you could possibly want but after being developed on and off for so long it’s clear that lots of features were afterthoughts. The interface is pretty bewildering.

What I want my program to do:

  • Allow you to enter any number of any sized panel you require to be cut. (rectangle shapes only for the moment, triangles later on.) It should also read in cuts from a text / excel file.
  • Allow you to enter any sheet good size you have on hand, not just standard sizes. So if you have scrap sheets that you have already cut down on a previous job, you can enter their dimensions and see what will fit on them.
  • Be simple to use and understand! Have as few settings as possible, but all that are required. I don’t want users to have to make 20 selections before they can layout their cuts.
  • Allow you to visually click & drag panels around the sheets until you get the result you are after.
  • Automatically optimise the layout of panels on the sheets entered (This is a harder feature to implement, the maths is a bit beyond me at the moment. I’ll get there though.)
  • Be extremely simple to use. Panels will ‘stick’ to each other when you drag them around, rotating, adding and deleting panels will be simple to do.
  • Print out a diagram of all your sheets with panels laid out and a cut list which names the panels and shows their dimension.
  • Export the results to an image you can view on your phone so you can check it when cutting in the shop or buying at the store.

I’d love to hear what else you think it should do, but remember, I’d like to keep it simple and easy to use as well. There’s no point in having another bloated piece of software which performs all tasks poorly.

Also it will only be for computers, I don’t think this sort of program is suited to a phone or table app. I’ve started work on the code but there is nothing interesting to show at the moment unfortunately, I’m working on the gui interface tonight so I’ll have something to display next week.

What other features do you think would be handy? Send an email my way.