… And automation arrived
And with it the long-awaited advanced manufacturing, which is only possible due to the process management systems already used in plants, such as ERPsand MES, and the resulting automation of machines which enables them to carry out certain tasks which previously had to be done by people.
Automating the machines was an achievement, but it didn’t stop there. Other advances were added to this including mechanization, feedback cycles, and the application of computing and other technologies. These have made it possible for many sectors, especially the industrial sector, to have become benchmarks for advanced manufacturing. Now tasks are carried out with greater speed and precision. Machines are interconnected; they can "communicate" with each other and interact with humans. Machines can even "learn" after completing processes many times and accumulating experiences (data). This then enables them to make predictions through "machine learning". Soon, machines will be able to "think and discern" thanks to the neural network models of artificial intelligence, extracting the data that has real value for decision making in the wide ocean of big data.
These are just some of the things that can be done thanks to the greater automation and connectivity achieved between machines, processes and plants.
Plan long term, deliver "just- in time"
In short, we aim to continue to get more competitive, applying innovation to make advances that allow us to explore new territories. But truth be told, talking about advanced manufacturing as we understand it today is nothing new, at least for Lantek. If we go back a few years, we see that this concept was already beginning to take shape and was among the company’s trending topics, although with some nuances compared to how we define it today.
These nuances are conditioned by technological advances and by the challenges brought with globalization. Industry, in particular the sheet metal and metal processing industry, has reached a stage in which the challenges associated with industry 4.0 and the hyper-connected global economy must be seen as a lever to drive the automation and modernization of plant manufacturing processes.
Within the framework of this digital transformation, advanced manufacturing seeks coordinated long-term planning and short-term delivery that can manage large manufacturing volumes and meet customers’ changing needs by offering tailor-made products. This brings with it more flexible production processes, short design and manufacturing cycles and, of course, the resulting necessity for cost control.
In line with the above, at Lantek we believe that advanced manufacturing should be understood as an opportunity to design a new model of industrial plant management which is based on experience and knowledge, as well as the comprehensive visibility of processes through digitization. All this, enabled by connectivity technologies (IoT), cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and many more innovations.
However, in the sheet metal processing sector, there are still significant challenges to address. One of the most important relates to managing sheet metal cutting technologies and automating the cutting machine in processes such as loading sheet metal and unloading parts and scrap metal, and in the recognition and supply of these parts for subsequent management in the plant. There are already systems on the market capable of organizing the material by recognizing pieces by artificial intelligence and using criteria such as size, thickness, shapes and priorities to ensure that everything is well organized in the warehouse. This makes it much easier to find the required pieces.
How? The answer is in the cloud
The cloud enables access to data from different locations and for different profiles. Accelerating the automation and interoperability of machines and production processes with the rest of the management areas is the basis on which to work on the road to the cloud. Thus, today, the software is capable of working with different threads and can establish and attend to the different requests, whether they come from the machine, from the user through the computer interface or from other systems, such as an ERP which indicates the products to be manufactured and their priorities.
Starting from this base, enabled by the cloud, solutions can be applied for the comprehensive analysis of the production data which, as in Lantek Analytics, allow predictive patterns to be established leading to faster and more accurate decision making. This software is customized and each company can define its own KPIs.
Another area would be applications that enable us to see and analyze parameters such as machines’ current status, availability and workload. Lantek Control Panel would be an example of this type of tool. Equally important is being able to generate quotes and costings and view customer data from anywhere and at any time, using data from the "nesting of parts" and production management, and to do all this rapidly and intuitively.
Of course, in these lines of advanced manufacture for our sector it is very helpful to have a materials budgeting solution like Lantek iQuoting, as well as an e-commerce platform like the online portal for metal parts MetalShop, which offers the opportunity to generate quotes, and manage the sale and entry into production of cutting parts by simply sending a file.
And this is only the start of a great revolution waiting for us just around the corner. A revolution that demands companies move and adapt to ensure they don’t soon become obsolete.
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