The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) represents a sea change in the global economy. With the help of sensors, big data, online dashboards and industrial controls and monitoring, companies of all sizes can reap the benefits of connectivity, data mobility and process transparency.
The IoT has the potential to transform metal fabrication, too. By incorporating IoT technology, machine shops, manufacturers and fabricators will enjoy new heights of productivity, greater transparency within the manufacturing process and smoother and more profitable operations.
Here are some ways incorporating the industrial IoT benefits metal fabricators:
Most industries are subject to some degree of regulation, but manufactured goods destined for automotive, aerospace, military, electronics and medical equipment have even more stringent standards to uphold.
One of the most significant benefits of the Industrial IoT for metal fabrication shops is the chance to automate inspections, boost product quality and dramatically reduce defects.
Manual inspections are expensive, time-intensive and subject to error when performed by human workers. Instead, IoT sensors and machine vision platforms can perform more reliable and impartial reviews. They can even use advanced imaging to see beneath a product’s surface before it moves to the next stages of distribution.
Metal fabrication companies and manufacturers of all kinds find that the IoT can unlock new types of business and service models. One of these is manufacturing-as-a-service (MaaS).
If you regularly ship components to customers in large quantities, the IoT lets you reimagine your product as a service instead. Digital dashboards and IoT sensors allow remote monitoring of customer inventory and in-house raw material levels, ensuring a continuous flow of supply to answer demand.
Another way metal fabricators can explore new models and revenue streams is by monetizing their own data. With remote sensors and after-sale monitoring, manufacturers can sell data and data services regarding the condition and performance of components in the field as their customers use them.
Manufacturers may also consider a pivot to manufacturing-as-a-service using 3D printers for metalworking. The Internet of Things is giving rise to new communities of customers and collaborators, pooling remotely networked printers and sharing the means of production to help smaller companies get their ideas off the ground without substantial equipment investments.
Inventory volatility is a difficult challenge during times of peak demand or outside market disruptions. With the IoT on their side, metal fabrication companies can monitor the locations of incoming raw material deliveries, outgoing finished product dispatches, truck fleets and on-the-ground conditions at suppliers.
IoT sensors and enterprise planning tools help decision-makers monitor stock levels and quickly or immediately share information. If a truck is running late, they can take proactive action. If it looks like a regular supplier can’t meet demand this quarter based on conditions in their area, the metal fabrication company can quickly switch over to alternate suppliers.
For manufacturers spread across multiple facilities, this allows quick decisions like cross-shipping raw supplies to other facilities to answer higher demand there.
The IoT goes well beyond inventory monitoring by supporting every discrete operation within the business from top to bottom.
Thanks to the Internet of Things, the run-to-failure model is mostly a distant memory in the industrial world. Running fabrication or material handling equipment to failure raises all kinds of problems you’re better off avoiding, such as:
Instead of interrupting workflows at critical times to address a failed machine or perform maintenance, IoT sensors provide another way. Metal fabricators who use the IoT can study equipment metrics in real-time for advanced warning of mechanical issues. This technique can avoid dreaded downtime altogether. If they don’t have replacement parts in stock, this buys them time to place an order.
Leveraging the IoT this way buys these machines some extra time, too. More proactive maintenance ensures metal fabricators get the longest possible life cycles out of their assets before they have to replace or upgrade them.
The “digital twin” could be one of the most potent concepts to arise from the IoT. Digital twins are a powerful fusion of the physical and digital realms, calling on everything from IoT sensors and data analytics to artificial intelligence (AI).
Digital twins allow the creation of a digital mock-up of a real object, product or system. A jet engine may have a digital twin that shows engineers where signs of failure are likely, how the engine is performing overall and what would be the potential impact of design changes. The digital twin divulges this information using data gathered from the actual engine’s components.
Using sensors and digitization this way lets metal fabrication companies and other manufacturers collaborate in new ways, even over vast distances. Seeing in real-time how a new design operates under desired conditions allows for faster product iterations on the way to the market.
Metal fabricators may soon deploy digital twin-ready parts as a matter of course. In a previous example, we explored the idea of using sensor telemetry to report on product performance from the field.
Full digital twins using data streamed off real-world products is the key to a circular economy. Economies like these stress sustainability through longer-lasting and more deliberately designed goods and business models. They focus on product longevity through maximizing resource life cycles and reuse, including gathering data on product usage to make refurbishing and reselling used components and equipment easier.
The advantages of working with metal speak for themselves by now. Metal is more durable than plastic, and it’s exceptionally versatile. It also has a host of qualities — like corrosion resistance, ductility and biocompatibility — that make it appealing in automotive, electronics and medical manufacturing.
We’ve come a long way from the furnace and the anvil. Getting the highest performance out of metal fabrication equipment and facilities means using advanced digital systems to perform, improve and scale critical manufacturing processes.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
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