By Rachel Duran
While the pandemic brought us many changes and challenges, one of the many positives for metalworkers and fabricators was that it further opened their eyes to the benefits of automation and digitalization initiatives for the factory floor.
A recent Industry Week survey regarding manufacturers’ plans to deploy digital transformation emphasizes this trend. In a question regarding which technologies will drive an operation’s investments in the next 12 months, the leading responses were 51 percent with plans to invest in “data analytics” followed by 39 percent responding “robotics/automation.”
“During the pandemic we saw a definite acceleration [in interest]; companies realized that you can’t just rely on having a lot of people on your factory floor,” said Bill Bither, co-founder and CEO, MachineMetrics, which offers an industrial IoT platform for machines. “We are seeing much more interest in automation. It’s more than just to improve your bottom line — it is a global trend. And if you don’t invest in this you will fall behind. We are seeing a lot more budgets being approved, and just in general, more interest in data and digitization.”
The good news is these efforts, such as implementing digital twins, which at the basic level are 3D models of the physical hardware on the factory floor, can start small without making a significant investment. Siemens’ Vivek Furtado said a digital twin itself brings many use cases including process optimization, validating a part program, training and simple job preparation. “This can be done, and in fact is being done today, also without a complete digital twin,” he said. “My message? Just get started.” Furtado is the head of machine tool digitalization for Siemens.
This month’s cover story addresses how smart factories use digital twins. Find out how your shop can manage expectations better, optimize your process and build better parts.
Optimizing processes is more critical than ever. The Institute for Supply Management’s July Manufacturing PMI® registered at 59.5 percent, a 1.1 percentage point decrease from June’s PMI reading of 60.6 percent. The figure represents expansion of the overall economy for the 14th month in a row. A Manufacturing PMI above 43.1 percent, over a period of time, generally indicates an expansion of the overall economy. Fabricated metal products are among the manufacturing sector’s six largest sectors, and registered moderate to strong growth in July.
One of the panelist participants from the fabricated metal products sector stated that although they are experiencing strong operations, new programs, orders and launches; they were also continuing to experience hiring difficulties, unable to fill production and salaried jobs due to a lack of candidates. The participant also stated raw materials were still in short supply, with longer lead times.
Of interest is the strong number of new orders and growth, even with fewer employees, which occurs regularly during manufacturing recessions, according to work done by the Brookings Institution, reported the AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology, when it announced that U.S. manufacturing technology orders totaled $448 million in May, an increase of 11 percent from April, pushing the 2021 total above the $2 billion mark. AMT reported studies have found that manufacturers in a position to do so will leverage a slowdown to invest in greater automation and more sophisticated production equipment. The result is a more productive in-place workforce. However, continued growth will still depend on a larger, more skilled manufacturing labor pool.
It’s Time to Get Business Done
It’s September, which means the industry is gathering in Chicago from September 13-16 at FABTECH. Metal formers, fabricators, welders, finishers and others will gather to view live equipment demonstrations, listen in to expert panelists and choose from more than 100 educational sessions to discover new products, solutions, and training opportunities. Stop by the Fabricating & Metalworking booth, A5170, and share your successes in 2021 and how 2022 is shaping up.
Manufacturer of Hypertherm Plasma and OMAX Waterjet Products is Now Hypertherm Associates
The name change more accurately reflects the company’s evolution to a multi-technology provider of industrial cutting solutions.
New Service Established to Rebuild Tool Holders Throughout North America
By investing and bringing this capability to the United States, INDEX expects to cut lead times for rebuilds by 50-to-70 percent.