Humans have been manufacturing goods for centuries. What began as people making tools for personal survival has turned into highly automated processes producing consumer goods on a global scale. Now that we’ve become efficient in manufacturing at scale, the market is demanding customized products. This changes the way we think about processes throughout the manufacturing facility and leads to tremendous innovations in manufacturing technology. Here are some questions and answers surrounding the advantages of such technologies.
How did we get here?
As communities grew and technology advanced, we began manufacturing goods at a greater scale but still at a high cost. After the inception of the assembly line, producing large quantities at affordable prices took off. As production prices dropped, the global economy expanded, opening new markets. This required more efficient processes and more robust logistical systems. Today, manufacturers use robotics on the shop floor, manufacturing software, and data collecting sensors to better understand their capabilities for meeting demand.
What’s the driving force?
Simply put globalization through technology. Large tech companies, like Amazon, have reinvented the way we shop by creating advanced systems for inventory control, logistical scheduling, and data analysis. This technology makes their system more transparent, enabling them to ship an online order within minutes, depending on the product and stock levels. Beyond Amazon, metal manufacturers are beginning to employ these methods to meet demand.
Why should metal manufacturers care?
Do you know the true cost of a part or a job? What about the true profitability? With dated, disconnected systems it’s tough for manufacturers to know their true numbers. If you’re using outdated pricing for materials or machine costs, your quotes could be miscalculated, costing you money.
Sometimes it’s best to turn a job down because the cost outweighs your target profit margin. Other times you may be able to extend a discount to win a job, while retaining a healthy margin. With connected systems your company will experience benefits beyond customers ordering online; the main benefit being data-driven decision-making.
Do we need to revamp for custom production?
This is a question a company needs to analyze with stakeholders. Generally, if you’re a contract manufacturer dealing with large volume, low mix, long term contracts it may not be the best move. If you’re a job shop dealing with low-to-mid volume, mid-to-high mix, and short turn around this should be on your radar for short-term investment. Maybe you’re a contract manufacturer looking to expand your operations because you have open time on your machines. Looking into producing custom work, like home décor, could be highly profitable, if you have the systems in place to automate as much as possible.
How do we prepare for more custom production?
Your first step in any project should be setting a goal. From there research best practices within the manufacturing sector. Next, find a trusted solution provider who can understand your unique needs. They will walk you through how to use technology to achieve your goal.
You’ll want to make sure your current systems can connect with the new systems. These include your CAD/CAM software, manufacturing execution system, and enterprise resource planning software. Once these are implemented, you can explore launching an online shop. This allows a customer to upload a geometry file and have a quote generated almost instantly. In the background your systems will calculate the cost of production, verify delivery dates according to real-time machine capacity, and generate an accurate quote.
In conclusion, we’ve become so efficient in manufacturing processes for products at scale that the market is demanding customized goods. If we can order a stocked product online and have it shipped in a day, then why can’t we order a custom product, and have it shipped in a day?
When a company decides to go ahead with the digitization of its processes, it tends to be aiming for greater visibility, traceability and optimization, which generally implies improvements in efficiency and decision-making.
Could you imagine a situation in which from anywhere of the world you were you could access in real time to your plant’s information? Wouldn’t it be perfect to control your company’s production from any device? Even if you are at your own plant, wouldn’t be a huge technological advantage to manage any process from anywhere? And yet more relevant, be able to collect the information coming from any cutting machine in the market?
In today’s world, one of the few sectors which cloud computing has not penetrated on a large scale is in industrial plants. Many companies are still wary of a remote platform which operates from outside their facilities, despite its undeniable success in other economic sectors and the tremendous advantages it offers.