Automation and the Metal Industry
Industry 4.0 is the latest buzzword in steel industry news. This term reflects what historians see as the fourth world-wide industrial revolution, which is going on today though it’s not yet fully realized in the sheet metal industry.
The first industrial revolution occurred when humans learned to build and harness mechanical equipment powered by fire or water to produce goods in a more efficient way. The second came about with the development of electricity to power this mass production even faster. Next came computers, which added super-human computational power to operate factories with even greater efficiency.
The fourth revolution is bringing even more technological advancements in steel industry that promise to propel future metal fabrication shops to far greater productivity and efficiency.
What is Automation?
One of the advanced technologies that make Industry 4.0 possible is automation. For the sheet metal fabrication industry, this means that rather than shaping metal manually with human power and agility, robotic equipment is used to bend, cut, weld, finish, and paint metal.
Technicians must repair and maintain the equipment and program it to perform all tasks that were once done with human strength and reasoning. These tasks may include moving, lifting, positioning, measuring, and cutting metal, and even welding it in place. Each of these different operations must be coordinated with each other for the greatest operating efficiency.
Automated robotic equipment can produce the same parts faster and more accurately than humans without ever tiring. Some factories can even allow their machines to operate “lights out” overnight or all weekend.
Harnessing Data in Real Time
In addition to automation, the concept of Industry 4.0 relies on full data interconnectivity between all the machines on the factory floor – and with the enterprise software controlling the supply chain, product design & development, customer relationship management, human resources, and financial reporting.
This type of data networking allows engineers to collect and analyze data in real time, in order to ensure equipment is maintained and operating properly and to make adjustments on the fly if things start to go wrong. Such a system also keeps track of customer orders and supplies, so that when a sheet metal roll is required, it’s already available. This reduces warehouse space needs, minimizes scrap, speeds up time to delivery, and improves overall quality of the end-product.
As industrial automation technology continues to advance, the sheet metal fabrication shop of tomorrow may also incorporate artificial intelligence and even virtual reality to continue to improve efficiency, productivity, and overall business performance.
Industrial Metal Supply Co. (IMS) is the Southwest’s largest metal supplier with six branches throughout Southern California and Arizona. IMS offers the broadest line of metals available from a single distributor, coupled with service offerings including plasma, laser and waterjet cutting operations. For more information, contact IMS.