The metal processing industry operates in a volatile environment and experiences diverse challenges – ranging from aging production assets, obsolescence of processing technologies, and supply chain fluctuations, to dynamic consumer preferences. Companies in this sector are under constant pressure to deliver high-quality products, optimize asset utilization, and increase profit margins despite the inherent challenges.
In the modern age, metal processing facilities must integrate cutting-edge technologies to combat these challenges and streamline routine operations. Implementing novel technology enhances asset utilization and enables companies to serve their customers better by predicting demand, forecasting risks, and eliminating production losses. Novel technology is crucial for strengthening sustainability programs as companies strive to control resource utilization to minimize their carbon footprints.
The metal processing industry has leveraged traditional improvement methods to solve some predominant challenges. However, these methods have become limited with the emergence of advanced production and asset management solutions. The digital solutions rely on real-time data collection and analysis to improve production processes, predict market demands, and enhance the efficiency of production assets.
Which novel technology is relevant to the metal manufacturing industry, and how can facilities integrate it into existing production, maintenance, and supply chain systems?
Using Artificial Intelligence For Predictive Analytics
Price volatility due to supply chain bottlenecks significantly affects operations in metal processing industries. Companies suffer heavy financial losses when supplies are delayed, or products fail to reach target markets within the intended timelines. Political tensions – and freak events such as the recent pandemic – cause travel restrictions, which may further affect the already complicated supply chains.
Companies are increasingly leveraging artificial intelligence to combat supply chain-related challenges. They develop predictive analytics, which utilizes machine learning algorithms to sift through historical production data, news articles, online data, and other online resources to identify market patterns and insights. The self-learning algorithms create unique databases for diverse market scenarios. Production and supply chain managers utilize insights from these datasets to predict demand and plan operations accordingly.
Some metal processing facilities have collaborative robots, autonomous mobile robots (AMR), and automated guided vehicles (AGV) in different stages of metal processing. These automatic machines rely on artificial intelligence for route planning, image recognition, material handling, sorting, and packaging. AI-based assets can increase production speed, minimize production costs, enhance product quality, and perform risky tasks precisely.
Automating Asset Maintenance
Metal processing goes through several stages and pieces of equipment. Each piece of equipment requires specific maintenance activities to keep it operational and productive, and to extend its durability. These production assets should survive several years of service. Companies may fail to meet their production needs due to improper maintenance, which causes frequent breakdowns, poor product quality, or increased safety risks amid stiff global competition.
Companies can optimize asset performance by automating the maintenance of all production assets in metal processing facilities. One technology that’s changing the industrial approach to asset maintenance is Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS). These programs are critical for scheduling various maintenance tasks, standardizing maintenance routines and enhancing the accuracy of maintenance records. The facility can keep a lifetime log of all maintenance activities and spare part consumption by every production asset.
Companies can also use robots and other remotely controlled devices to inspect critical assets. These devices are connected through dedicated networks and utilize sensors for real-time data collection and transmission. These technologies guarantee thorough inspection of facilities for better maintenance and production planning depending on the health and availability of equipment.
Leveraging Additive Manufacturing Techniques
Additive manufacturing techniques are revolutionizing metal processing activities across different facilities. It has given rise to a new breed of businesses and hobbyists who manufacture on-demand consumer products. The emergence of additive manufacturing techniques means production is possible using small pieces of machinery and has enhanced sustainability across the sector.
Some additive manufacturing techniques include 3D printing, metal bed fusion, material jetting, and material extrusion. Metal processors use additive manufacturing technologies to replicate complex part designs and finalize production within a short span. These advanced production techniques are crucial for mass-producing components at relatively lower costs.
Several companies are investing in additive manufacturing techniques to improve lean revenue margins. Metal manufacturers can position themselves as design consultants, software and hardware developers, machinery manufacturers, distributors, or maintenance experts. Additive manufacturing methods are associated with low scrap levels and are critical for overcoming supply-chain-related challenges that affect the metal processing industry.
Green Economy, IoT and Augmented Reality For Sustainable Operations and Training
As technology advances, so do its prospects in the metal processing industry. The internet of things and advanced mobile technology facilitate remote metal processing operations. Manufacturers use industrial-grade IoT sensors to monitor asset performance and remotely inspect inaccessible assets. The sensors enable companies to monitor the performances of different production assets. Facility managers can leverage asset performance data to initiate continuous improvement programs and phase out low-productivity equipment.
Sustainability is at the core of modern metal processing activities, with facilities shifting to renewable energy resources and eliminating non-productive processes. Companies are increasingly adopting recycling initiatives to minimize waste. Greening initiatives enable companies to meet stringent compliance standards, minimize operational costs and remain competitive.
Metal processing facilities are under constant pressure to deliver high-quality products through sustainable operations amid a skilled labor shortage. Companies must conduct regular training to acquaint staff with emerging technological trends, industry regulations and safety measures. Companies can leverage augmented reality (AR) for remote staff training. They use the technology to share technical information in a friendly manner using real-life scenarios or simulations to enhance technical competence and safety knowledge.
Technology is vital for overcoming several challenges affecting the metal processing industry. The different technologies work together to minimize operational costs, manage labor shortages and enhance sustainable operations.
Every facility should audit internal operations to identify predominant challenges before selecting the appropriate technological solutions. The preferred technology should be compatible with existing metal processing technologies, upgradable to meet technological changes and guarantee favorable returns on investment.