Bob St. Aubin is the president of Bystronic Inc., which manufactures laser cutting systems, waterjet cutting systems and press brakes for the precision processing of sheet metal.
CURRENT STATE OF BUSINESS
At this time we are seeing the current state of the market as stable but somewhat decreasing. It appears that concerns about the recent election and the fiscal cliff have either stalled or delayed some companies’ projects.
In the metal fabrication industry as much as 70 percent of the market is created by smaller companies, often contract manufacturers, with less than 200 employees and privately owned. Many of the decisions in these types of shops are made based on the decisions of a single owner that draw their inspiration based on the things that they see and hear in their marketplace as well as the greater economy as a whole – and right now there are some concerns out there.
There are currently a number of industries that continue to see strength and success, including agricultural and defense. In addition, growth in the food service and medical industries continues to remain on track. We are currently seeing opportunities in applications which differentiate and/or enhance productivity and reduce the costs of manufacturing. These include projects for the newer style fiber lasers, which are fast with a lower hourly run cost, as well as larger laser cutting systems such as the 6 kW CO2 systems for faster cutting and piercing on a range of materials.
Also, larger bed lasers with a minimum of 6 ft x 12 ft size cutting areas are popular because they give manufacturers a chance to create parts with less welding and also become more efficient in their use of material. Finally, a significant number of the machines in demand include some type of automation, which reduces the labor input and increases the overall efficiency of the system.
The major trend we are seeing in the metal fabrication industry is the change from looking at individual operations and the machines that support them to the overall requirement of reducing production lead time and the interconnected systems required to support this concept.
Most metal fabrication companies now understand that in order to succeed they must have the ability to create small volumes of complex parts easily and efficiently. Shops must also reduce their takt time, or total production lead time, by measuring the entire cycle that it takes to create products: Not from the stage that the raw material hits the shop floor until the job is shipped, but from the point they receive a purchase order for the job until they are paid in full for the delivery of that job.
This change in approach not only reduces the production lead time and provides more time to make more parts, it also enhances cash flow, overall productivity and profitability. Shops are doing this not only by automating information flow by using innovative software solutions (such as MRP, ERP, production control systems) but by integrating these systems with highly automated manufacturing systems that reduce overall setup and material handling considerations.
The biggest change in technology that is allowing this trend is the full integration of systems from a network communication standpoint. There was a time in our history when automation primarily focused on material handling. But advancements in overall technology now expand the concept of automation such that shops can automate the design and manufacturing engineering associated with the production requirements calculated by MRP or ERP systems to automatically create and route the job requirements and nests necessary to run the machine tools that physically produce each job on the shop floor.
Amid Challenges, Majority of Metalformers Predict Little Change in Economic Activity
U.S and Canadian incoming orders expected to remain steady, according to the latest barometer reading from the Precision Metalforming Association.
U.S. Manufacturing Grows in September –– PMI Dips 0.6% to 55.4
The Institute for Supply Management reports that among the six biggest industries, food, beverage & tobacco remains the best-performing sector, with fabricated metal and chemical products growing strongly.