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Emerging Technologies and Workforce Development

By: Peter Ulintz

Tuesday, November 1, 2016
 

Back in February 2012, I wrote here that I was not surprised to see that we were in the midst of an amazing 3-yr. economic recovery. What was surprising, however, was that the recovery was not about job growth; it was about automation, productivity, process optimization and quality improvement. Our factories have now been streamlined to the point where they are among the most efficient in the world.

Today, growth in the metalforming industry reflects the rapid development and expansion of new technologies. And, faced with the retirement of an aging workforce, metalformers must reassess how they train and develop the next-generation workforce charged with implementing these new technologies.

Spending more money on training will not alone solve the problem of educating future metalforming professionals. As an industry, we must define how to properly prepare the emerging workforce and, more importantly, what it is we should actually be teaching. High-school students preparing to enter college or technical schools likely will work at jobs that do not exist today, requiring us to somehow prepare these students to use technologies that have not yet been developed or implemented. They’ll be required to solve problems that we do not yet recognize.

For example: Will tool and die shops continue to cut and machine their tooling, or will they employ 3D metal-printing processes such as net-shape metallic spray deposition to deposit the exact metallurgy required for each die component? CNC machining requires considerable programming and cutting time, consumes considerable energy, and it wastes material. Surely, conventional subtractive processes will in many cases be replaced by more efficient net-shape manufacturing technologies.

Also, consider new and emerging metalforming process developments, such as double-sided incremental metalforming. This novel manufacturing process utilizes two generic tools to manipulate sheetmetal in an effort to produce free-form parts without the need for dies. The process can potentially achieve a design-to-product cycle time of just a few hours or days, as compared to the typical cycle for conventional metalforming processes measured in weeks or months.

What about talent at the shopfloor level? Most companies no longer can afford to pay top dollar for workers whose skill sets do not extend beyond the ability to bend and spot-weld a piece of sheetmetal. Today’s lean metalforming companies require skilled workers who think like engineers and whose skills are essential to the process of designing, prototyping and manufacturing products.

For many readers, most of this may sound unimaginable. But consider this: Modern die-engineering practices now make use of computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools that employ finite-element methods to help design and validate metalformed products and their tools. These computer programs have been scientifically derived to analyze and optimize the metalforming process. Not long ago, this technology was limited to highly skilled CAE analysts with master’s or doctorate degrees, working at large OEMs, steel research centers or universities. The complexity and long learning curve to implement this technology was deemed by many to be unfeasible for commercial use. Today, however, these software products are so extensively developed and user-friendly that they are widely used by tool and die engineers, process engineers, estimating personnel and tool and die makers. Twenty years ago the widespread use and acceptance of this technology was unimaginable.

So, how can metalformers and tool and shops keep pace? Attend PMA’s Metal Stamping Technology and Tool & Die Conference in Chicago, on December 6-7, 2016. Also, consider joining me at the stamping technical tracks being offered at FABTECH, November 16-18, 2016, in Las Vegas. Receive a 30-percent discount on your FABTECH stamping-track sessions by registering online to attend at www.fabtech.expo.com, and using the discount code SPK30. MF

 

Related Enterprise Zones: Tool & Die, Training


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