Changes headed towards the manufacturing industry that you need to know
The manufacturing industry is changing as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s always been on the leading edge of technology and innovation. Metal fabrication is an integral part of this sector, and innovations are cropping up every year. What metal fabrication innovations are on the horizon, and why is it so important to stay ahead of these changes?
Incorporating More Automation
Automation has a negative reputation for stealing jobs, and while that may be true to a degree, automation is also helping metal fabricators keep up with demands while contending with an industrywide labor shortage. This industry and many others lost a lot of skilled workers during the 2008 recession, and they haven’t been able to recover as of yet. Robots don’t eliminate the need for human workers, but they can be used to mitigate the shortage by automating unskilled or mundane tasks so skilled fabricators can focus their energies elsewhere.
In the coming years, automation will play a much larger role than it has in the past, especially if the labor shortage continues. Some companies may even choose to automate unskilled tasks to reduce payroll costs and improve their bottom line — something that will be important in the ever-changing field of metal fabrication.
Advancements in Perforated Metal
Metal perforation has been part of the fabrication industry since the mid-19th century, but primitive techniques tended to create less-than-optimal results. Innovations in metal perforation are starting to emerge that will change the way fabricators punch holes in metal.
Instead of making each hole individually, perforation rollers allow fabricators to create even, uniform punches every time. Each roller has pins in the size and shape needed for the specific project. They can go through the metal cold, or be heated to create a clean punch each time. The heated pin also creates a reinforced ring around the perforation to increase the strength of the metal.
Lasers are also becoming popular for perforation. They’re more expensive than other types of technology, but using them is more precise, produces consistently sized holes and takes less time than traditional perforation techniques.
Shrinking the Carbon Footprint
The steel industry as a whole generates tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases every year, accounting for 4 percent of the country’s annual production. Some international steel plants are taking steps to shrink their carbon footprint by putting their waste heat to use.
The city of Brescia in Italy is heated in the winter and powered in the summer by the waste heat generated by its local steel mill. This change reduces the factory’s carbon footprint by more than 10,000 tons every year. Collecting waste heat to power homes also eliminates the plant’s need for a water-cooling system, which works toward company conservation goals.
These trends are picking up speed, and it’s more important than ever to pay attention to the environmental impact of your business. Consumers are demanding supply chain transparency from companies they buy from, and taking their business elsewhere if a company doesn’t make changes to become more sustainable. You could lose a lot of customers, or even clients, putting your entire operation at risk by refusing to make sustainable changes.
The Importance of Riding the Wave
Why is it so important to make these changes and ride the wave of innovation in the metal fabrication industry?
To put it simply, the industry is changing — and those that don’t change with it will be left behind like a pair of broken flip-flops at the beach. You can stick to your traditional fabrication techniques, and you may be OK for a while, but when it comes down to the wire, you won’t be able to keep up with companies that have made an effort to adopt these innovations.
You don’t even necessarily have to be on the front lines. Your company doesn’t need to be the one to beta test these new techniques and technologies as they enter the market, but you need to work toward bringing some or all of them into your factory before you’re left behind like those poor flip-flops.
Adopting innovations doesn’t just help you keep up with growing demand. It can also help you combat the labor shortage, and even bring in new skilled employees to help navigate these advances that might seem alien to you if you’re used to doing everything by hand.
You don’t have to be at the top of the wave as it crashes toward the metal fabrication beach, but you need to be in the water.
The Future of Metal Fabrication
These innovations are just the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible when technology and metal fabrication become one. Whether you’re concerned about your carbon footprint or are trying to keep up with increasing demand, adopting one or more of these innovations could help you stay ahead of the pack as the industry continues to grow and get more competitive.
We’ve been forming metal since the Bronze Age, but a single blacksmith at his forge isn’t enough to shoe all the horses. Take a look at your current processes and see where these innovations will fit in your company. The industry is in the midst of an enormous shift, and those that ride the wave will thrive while those that don’t will be left behind.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/