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Many decision-makers are pursuing digital transformation for metal fabrication. They know doing that could help them remain competitive, cut costs, increase safety and more. There’s no single way to navigate a digital transformation. However, it’s increasingly common for the Internet of Things (IoT) to play a significant role. Here are some of the ways the IoT can provide notable operational enhancements.
Improving Quality Control
Manual quality checks can be time-consuming, and even the most sharp-eyed humans don’t catch all errors. However, the IoT can collect real-time data and alert people to abnormalities, making it more likely mistakes will be found and fixed in time. Otherwise, there’s the risk of faulty parts leaving production facilities, which could cause long-term reputational damage.
IoT sensors don’t replace human oversight but can supplement it to reduce the chances of mistakes or flaws falling through the cracks. A problem that may be hard for a person to see — such as a machine out of alignment — could be detected by a machine relatively easily. That’s because IoT devices usually include algorithms that pick on deviations from the norm.
In one example, a German team created an IoT-powered cutting tool that collects real-time performance indicators, including friction, vibration or temperature. That data informs shop workers of potential issues.
The researchers also investigated opportunities to securely share relevant data with trusted partners. Metal fabricators could show everything went as expected when a certain piece was made.
If things go wrong and a metal fabrication shop manager finds out after the fact, IoT solutions could allow them to look at historical data to determine what went wrong and why. Was it a particular machine to blame, a specific employee or a problem caused by a material fault? Examining the IoT data could give the necessary answers.
Tightening Workplace Safety
People must make conscious efforts to ensure metal fabrication shops are safe. This includes establishing and revising rules and standards, providing workers with ongoing training, and setting up a reliable and easy-to-use system for reporting and tracking potential safety violations. Creating a safer work environment could also be one of metal fabrication's primary digital transformation goals.
Many industrial facility workers don wearables that give better visibility into their productivity, body movements and more. These IoT devices can tell supervisors whether people need to take breaks before they become overly fatigued.
Some company leaders also use wearables to illuminate problems to solve. Workers may engage in repetitive movements that could become problematic. However, it may take weeks or months before those motions cause strain. IoT devices can detect these issues more quickly, increasing the likelihood of people taking corrective action before it’s too late to prevent bodily harm.
Some IoT devices monitor how people interact with machines. For example, metal-cutting equipment might not activate unless someone can provide a valid connected ID card, proving they’re qualified to operate it. A shop manager would use that extra verification process to prevent unauthorized usage.
Since many IoT solutions have remote-monitoring capabilities, managers can also check that workers follow the right procedures to reduce problems — even if that supervision occurs from an off-site location. A finishing machine’s working width can be as large as 63 inches or less than 9. Following the appropriate steps or safety rules when working with particular equipment is a best practice for avoiding injuries.
Maintaining Reliability and Productivity
Shop leaders have various reasons for being compelled to work toward digital transformation for metal fabrication. However, the desire to reduce unwanted surprises is almost always prioritized. Unplanned downtime can be incredibly costly and cause customers to lose trust in providers.
However, IoT sensors are excellent complements to existing maintenance plans. Similarly to how they can alert people to process problems, these components can tell them of imminent machine failures. Leaders in other industries also know how important it is to prevent workflow stoppages. That’s one of the reasons why many fleet managers use IoT telematics products to avoid vehicle breakdowns. Learning about an engine or fuel pump problem earlier gives these professionals time to behave proactively.
One research study involved adding sensors to stamping presses for maintenance improvements. That setup measured seven parameters and split the data into working or failure states. Decision-makers with reliable data to refer to at any time have the knowledge to verify production is occurring as scheduled.
Additionally, they can have a clearer perspective of whether their metal fabrication shop has a well-balanced workflow that’s reasonable for workers and the machines they use for various tasks. Data showing specific equipment is used more than others could justify purchasing a replacement sooner or having that machine maintained more frequently than others.
Using the IoT to reach a digital transformation for metal fabrication also supports trend tracking. Did a shop have significantly more or less output during a given month or week? If so, people can dig into the data to learn why that happened. The ongoing access to reliable information also shows which team members are most productive.
How much does a person’s experience level and training impact their efficiency and performance? A digital transformation for metal fabricators can give valuable insight.
Moving Ahead With a Digital Transformation for Metal Fabrication
These are some of the many benefits people can see by digitizing operations at metalworking shops. The IoT is not the only aspect that can further a digital transformation for metal fabricators, but it’s often an excellent starting point because of the associated flexibility offered.
If you’re thinking about implementation, consider your budget, the deployment time frame, and how many people or departments in your organization will use IoT technologies daily. That will make it easier to create a practical plan for using the IoT in the most beneficial ways for everyone involved.