Good Times to Be Had, but Challenges Lie in Wake—SSDDMarch 27, 2019
At last month’s PMA Forming our Future Leadership Conference in San Antonio, industry pundit Laurie Harbour noted that, “U.S. metal forming companies, in 2018, enjoyed an average increase in revenues of 8.37 percent year over year, with 74 percent experiencing increased revenues.”
Good times indeed, but challenges lie in wait. For example, a decrease in car/truck sales (less than 3 percent) is projected in 2019, according to the auto-industry special report featured in this issue. This and many other challenges facing our industry are well known and understood, because we have seen them before—SSDD (same stuff, different day). I wrote about many of them back in 2013 when MetalForming presented a 25-yr. history lesson on the metal forming industry. Among the highlights (you’ll notice similarities to nowadays):
- In the late 1980s, diversification became a strategy leaned on by metal formers to protect against automotive-market and other economic swings. “Don’t concentrate revenue in any one customer or product segment,” became the mantra, along with “Deliver value through engineering, value-added operations and pre-production support.”
- In the 1990s, attention turned to metal formers’ ability to digest new software and controls technology, and metal formers struggled to properly train the technologically advanced workforce of the future.
- And, the 2000s welcomed the notorious steel tariffs that tightened supply and pushed material prices to record levels.
Tariffs…workforce training…our industry again faces these all-too-familiar challenges, even while over time metal formers have learned to be lean and mean through implementation of new technology to ensure optimized plant-floor and back-office operations.
But it’s not enough. A recent survey by EY Group of 500 senior industry executives finds that the majority feel that their company is lagging behind in innovation efforts, and paying for it with sluggish revenues and slow growth.
In our own industry, repeatedly I hear of unscheduled downtime in the pressroom, where even the most efficiently scheduled and operated press lines unexpectedly go down. Tools wear at rates higher than planned for; part dimensions move out of tolerance; and press tonnage climbs—all data that’s unbeknownst to those on the floor and in the office.
What is the answer to these and other interrupters to efficiency and profitability? I suggest that manufacturers commit to learning about, and investing in, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT initiatives place sensors throughout a shop, monitoring every step of the manufacturing process. IoT also enables monitoring of parts and assemblies throughout the factory. Using IoT technology to manage all of this enables metal formers and fabricators to quickly identify and correct inefficiencies. And, all of the data collected can flow through an ERP system to direct predictive- and preventive-maintenance functions and help drive sales and marketing efforts.
All of this comes to light in our upcoming conference, IoT for Manufacturers—Software, Sensors and Controls, June 24-25 in Cleveland, OH. Among the presentations are several discussing real-life applications of IoT in metal forming plants, and the benefits realized. Learn more about our conference and register to attend.
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