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Evaluate Coming Technologies, and Make a Choice

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017
This is no time for fabricators to bury their collective heads in their current work, so deeply that they ignore the coming
technologies that promise to impact all of manufacturing for decades to come. Additive manufacturing (AM), smart robots, Internet of Things, predictive analytics and other technologies have arrived, and early, smart adopters will reap the benefits. While some of these developments may come slowly to metal fabrication, they most certainly will come.

Unfortunately, it appears that many in our industry are not where they should be in terms of awareness and understanding. That’s the early findings of a survey conducted by industry analyst Cindy Jutras. In her survey of manufacturers, Jutras finds that less than half are even familiar with any of these coming technologies. While I wouldn’t expect that many have implemented them (14 percent currently deploy AM and 20 percent deploy predictive analytics, for example), I would expect (hope?) that more were taking the time to learn and understand them, and moreimportantly, beginning to evaluate their value.

In the famous words of Rush singer/songwriter Getty Lee, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

The July 2017 issue of FPN’s sister publication, MetalForming magazine, will include more details on Jutras’ 2017 survey on digital preparedness. The results are alarming in some ways, signaling a lack of interest in learning and understanding the coming trends in manufacturing technology. Whether your company adopts some of these technologies in the next few years or in the next 10 years, it’s only a matter of time. We went through this several years ago with barcoding, EDI and ERP systems. Now it’s time to learn and understand, and at least plan to implement, AM, data capture and analytics capabilities. Don’t choose to “not decide.” Instead, decide now to learn more about these coming technologies and how they might apply to your company, today or down the road.

This issue of FPN offers plenty of state-of-the-art technology that promises to immediately deliver improved performance and productivity to your fab shop. For example, we present an easily affordable and vastly improved welding helmet that, thanks to creatively engineered new features, will give your welders improved visibility to help them better control the weld puddle. Also presented is a new resistance-welding gun optimized for working with advanced steels; and a new waterjet-cutting machine with a linear-traction drive system that uses optical encoders to provide 0.1-micron positioning accuracy.

To stay abreast of the new, emerging technologies impacting our industry—whether you’re ready for them now or will be later—takes time and energy. Keith Helfrich, in this issue’s Innovation Intersection column, provides solid advice on how to do so within the framework of teamwork. Engage your peers and teammates in the exercise of innovation education and implementation, suggests Helfrich, to “invigorate your employees” and “unleash the innovations lying dormant inside your company.”

For example, you might consider assigning to key managers the task of researching one of the above-mentioned burgeoning technologies, and asking those managers to prepare a presentation or the rest of the management team, and perhaps additional key employees. The presentation could include the basic fundamentals of the technology; describe how others in manufacturing are using it; and then explain how your company might use it, or not, to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

This exercise, repeated several times, should encourage open discussion, notes Helfrich, and then, where applicable, managed discussion. Read his column to understand the difference between these two types of discussions.

Don’t ignore the coming technologies promising to impact our industry in 2020 and beyond. Decide today that you will at least investigate some of these technologies, learn the basics and survey the landscape to see how they are currently being deployed in manufacturing, and how they will be deployed in the future. As Helfrich says, “leaving innovation on the table means leaving money on the table.”