Don’t lean on a three-legged table

automation, smart manufacturing, sustainability

The 2022 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) showed off a vast and varied collection of the most advanced manufacturing systems available in the world today. The technology was complex, but the overall message was simple. Be smarter.

The four modern pillars (or legs for my table metaphor) of manufacturing were clearly on display at the show. Automation, machine monitoring, digital transformation, and sustainability are all necessary in the shop of tomorrow. Not the shop of the not-too-distant future…literally tomorrow. And you need all four.

Here’s my take on them.

Automation. The skills gap and related labor shortage means automation is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Robots, cobots, pallet changers, and even automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are now a must-have for manufacturers.

Machine monitoring. Data collected from the machine, including everything from temperature to spindle load, helps manufacturers track cycle time but also overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), reject rates, and first pass yield. With so much data available, it’s also necessary to create custom, easy-to-read dashboards to track your current progress and review historical information.

Digital transformation. It’s probably best to take some baby steps with your digital transformation strategy. Understanding the value of digital twins is a good place to start. Digital twins help you work better with machines in your own shop and in different plants that you own, and with partner shops and clients elsewhere in the world.

Sustainability. This may seem out of place among the other key pillars, but when your customers, especially those at the top of the manufacturing food chain, ask you about sustainability, you probably should say more than you’ve switched to an environmentally friendly coolant. If it matters to them, it should matter to you.

Being immersed in today’s best technology also made me reflect a bit on the past.

This month marks a professional anniversary for me. It’s my 20th year of providing a unique Canadian outlook on the world of metal manufacturing. The visit to IMTS showed me just how much the industry has transformed in that time.

Twenty years ago this month you were probably blaring Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” in your shop—it was the No. 1 song at the time—while manually entering offsets, manually loading/unloading parts, and chasing cycle time. Today, on-machine measurement and advanced controls make the offsets, a cobot is handling your parts, and cycle time is only one of many key metrics by which you can measure the success of your operation.

My prediction for what the next 20 years has in store for Canadian manufacturing has been placed in a sealed envelope, ready to be revealed in 2042. Like Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent, it likely will be wrong and hopefully good for a laugh.

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