Generation Z Characteristics

The Future of Metal Fabrication: Gen Z

In just a few short years, the sheet metal fabrication industry has been rejuvenated, in part due to exciting new technologies like automation and the industrial internet of things (IIOT), 5-axis machining, co-bots, and robotic welding. 

While in the short term, the rise of industrial robots is projected by the consultancy firm Oxford Economics to result in a loss of 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030, the firm notes that some of these lost jobs will be replaced by new ones requiring a new set of highly technical skills. Meanwhile, demographic changes are causing a dramatic loss in experienced employees, resulting in a “Skills Gap” in the industry. 

But on the horizon, the next cohort of tech-savvy young people to follow the Millennials, called Generation Z, may be a perfect fix to fill in the gap.

Generation Z Characteristics

According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial generation consists of anyone born between 1981 and 1996, while the next group, Gen Z, covers those born in 1997 or later (date ranges sometimes vary). The influential factors affecting Millennials in their growing years included the rise of the internet, increased immigration, the 9/11 attack on the U.S., the birth of the smartphone, and a world-wide economic recession. 

As these factors appeared over time, Millennials adapted along with the culture. But by the time Gen Z came on the scene, 24-hour social connectivity through wifi and the mobile web fully permeated their daily lives. This makes the latest generation of young people the most tech savvy of all – even more so than their slightly older siblings.

A 2019 Brazilian study by Deloitte found that Gen Zers are more open even than Millennials to a variety of people and groups, and are more willing to engage in dialog to solve conflicts. In the increasingly global manufacturing industry, the ability to understand and accept people from many different backgrounds is essential to successful operations.

The study also found that Gen Zers place a high value on individuality. They seem willing to experiment with a range of identities, and prefer to avoid labels. These characteristics may make it easier for more Gen Z women to find their way into traditionally male occupations, including metal fabrication.

Changes in the way schools teach have created a generation that is very comfortable with team projects and online self-learning. Both these methods of gathering knowledge and solving problems will serve Gen Z well in the 21st century workplace.

Generation Z Career Expectations

How will today’s high-tech culture affect career aspirations for Gen Z? According to the Brazilian study, definite differences are emerging between Millennials and Gen Z. Though both groups grew up during periods of dramatic social change, Gen Z was deeply marked by the Great Recession. From childhood, they watched their parents struggle with unemployment and underemployment, and the resulting emotional and financial strains. As a result, the latest generation is looking for a more stable, financially comfortable life.

A McKinsey survey found that 56 percent of Gen Z versus 52 percent of Millennials seeks to earn a high salary and be wealthy. The newest generation wants the stability of having a “real job,” versus the Millennials’ affinity for freelance or the part-time gig economy. And fifty-two percent of Gen Z, versus 49 percent of Millennials, want to own their own home. Manufacturing jobs are some of the most stable and high-paying jobs available, which should make them attractive to Gen Z.

The Future of Metal Fabrication

As true digital natives, Gen Z members come fully immersed in the world of video controllers, tablets and smart phones – the same types of graphics interfaces used to control the most advanced metal fabrication equipment. Because of this, their ability to program and operate robotic manufacturing equipment and to translate 3D computer designs into metal components should be unsurpassed.

Their comfort with global connectivity through social media and internet gaming should allow them to shine in the integrated digital factories of Industry 4.0. And their inclusivity will allow Gen Z employees to feel completely at ease in the multicultural workplace of advanced metal fabrication. Manufacturers who seek out members of this generation will benefit greatly in the years to come.

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How to Bend Sheet Metal

If you don’t have a special tool for bending sheet metal (called a “sheet metal brake”), you can also do it with a vise and your bare hands, provided that the metal isn’t too thick. Below, we’ve outlined the basic materials and steps needed to bend metal for your own hobbies.

  1. Buy the Right Materials: To do the job correctly, you’ll need a vise, two form blocks (wood or metal), a calculator, protractor, tape measure, mallet, and something to write with. Depending on the metal’s thickness, you may also need a heavy-duty hammer instead of a mallet.
  1. Assess the Metal: First, use your tape measure to figure out how thick the sheet metal is, and then plug that number into this formula: (π/180) x B x (IR + K x MT).

MT is the metal thickness, K is the K-Factor (find it with this chart), IR is the inside radius, and B is the desired bend angle. With the formula completed, you’ll find the bend allowance, which is precisely how many inches the metal will expand when bent.

  1. Get Ready to Bend: Before putting the sheet metal into a vise, first mark your bend lines with a pencil, and then cut the sheet so that at least ¼” of extra room is left over. Finally, make sure the sheet is filed down smoothly, because otherwise you may get cracks in the metal.
  1. Place Forms and Sheet in Vise: Your form blocks should have the exact shape for bending your metal angle. When you clamp the sheet metal into the vise’s grip, make sure the bend lines on your blocks and sheet match up. If there is too much play in the metal and it feels wobbly when you put pressure on it, you might want to ask a friend to hold the top while you use the mallet.
  1. Bend the Metal: Lastly, you should lightly tap the sheet with a soft mallet, going from one end of the bend line to the other. This way, you’ll avoid unsightly dents and ensure that your final bend is strong.