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While at FABTECH 2018, North America's largest metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing show in Chicago, we noticed that the industry is on the growth path. Production in the U.S. is estimated to grow 2.8 percent from 2018-2021.1 We’ve also seen that optimism within the manufacturing industry is at an all-time high.
The challenge of finding and keeping skilled workers is still at the forefront. We chatted with attendees at the show and discovered that those companies who are using advanced manufacturing technologies like the cloud or connecting data through the use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are more attractive to potential employees. This robust work environment not only offers more technically-focused job seekers fulfillment, but also enables the company to be much more confident about getting setup right before parts are made.
Within the metalstamping industry, quality drives most of the decisions being made but it’s challenging to balance the cost of quality with efficiency. One of the ways new technology is addressing this is by leveraging data. IIoT is important here because more data related to quality becomes available. Specifically, predictive maintenance and predictive quality. Quality trends are measured and alerts or other actions can be done before a problem exists. End customers demand quality products so OEMs demand quality performance all the way down their supply chains. There’s no tolerance for delivering anything but a quality product because the risk to the company’s reputation is too great.
Of course, this data wouldn’t be available unless the metal fabricator or metalstamping company was collecting and making use of it. While at the show, we ran into companies that are monitoring machines and machine data on the shop floor. The key is bringing this data into the ERP/MES system to make it available to both operators on the shop floor and managers or executives at the top floor. Solutions that bring in sensor data with strong analytics engines enable operators to cross-compare data streams to identify root causes.
Technology like manufacturing cloud ERP continues to be the driver of increased efficiency, control and visibility. It can also offer some help with the skilled labor shortage in attracting potential workers and keeping them happy. At the end of the day, metal fabricators and stampers need to find the balance between technology, processes and people for a winning combination.