Manufacturing Solutions

Surviving in turbulent times means getting control of costs through investing in technology

Receive ANCA news direct to your inbox

Stay updated on the latest tips and technology


Privacy Policy

The past few years have thrown an array of challenges at businesses. Covid restrictions, increases in steel prices and container shortages are making it increasingly difficult to keep costs under control and deliver on time to customers. In this type of environment, businesses need to look at what they can control - and often this is their internal processes.
If you don’t take back some control with future thinking and agile business practices, it could mean surviving or not during these turbulent times. The good news is that most businesses already have the necessary tools to analyse business processes to reduce costs, and interestingly most of these tools didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Lets take my business, ANCA Sheet Metal Solutions (ASM) for example. We offer a comprehensive set of services integrating sheet metal fabrication equipment with a workforce of qualified manufacturing engineers, technicians and welders. The team are practiced in transforming a concept into a well-priced, high quality product.
Our capabilities include engineering; laser cutting; waterjet cutting; folding and forming equipment; welding and painting; assembly and testing and take a lean manufacturing approach. For us welding is a large part of our core business with almost half of all our manufacturing team engaged in some form of welding. Given this work is such a large proportion of our business it only makes sense to look for improvement in this area.
Recent studies to improve quality and reduce cost is pushing more businesses to consider robot welding and more recently investigate laser welding. This requires an investment in new technology, but the payback of greater efficiency and increase in quality makes it a good business decision. Robot welding requires no operator involvement, other than loading the materials and switching the machinery on. Using automation also increases consistency by sharing a common strategy between operator and robot so that the same welding parameters are applied for every job.
Robots weld at a consistent pace, with little or no pause in welding which can save a significant amount of time in the manufacturing process. For example, we reduced a manufacturing process that required an hour of welding down to six minutes through the use of a robot. This drastically increased our capacity without needing to increase the size of our facility.
Laser welding is a more recent development from the world of manufacturing but has begun to be used in our industry more often in the last few years. Laser Welding uses an intense beam of light to heat up joining surfaces and melt them together to form one fused piece. The benefit of laser welding, other than full weld penetration, is in the reduced amount of post-processing. Removing processes such as grinding and polishing not only help to reduce costs but with less manual handling comes less scrap and rework.
For the more adventurous businesses out there a combination of both robot welding and laser welding is a possibility offering the benefits of both processes. The Industrial Internet Of Things can seem daunting and can be perceived by some to have high implementation costs with no tangible value. Furthermore, the learning curve is too steep to even consider.
Firstly, businesses need to consider how to set up the infrastructure to capture data and monitor their factory processes to gain data to make smart decisions. For example you can measure operations such as power consumption, temperature, humidity, vibration, air pressure, door sensors, presence of water etc.. Industrial PLC’s sensors and programmers will add up to tens of thousands to implement but it’s not the only options available to companies. A relatively affordable solution can be achieved using free software, $30 microcomputers and $5 sensors. Setting up these systems delivers valuable insights and manufacturing data to help teams understand what projects will deliver real results.
Secondly businesses need to consider the data. What is the value of this information? What can a business do with the manufacturing data? Is the cost and effort worth it? For some, no! To make this work, businesses need to invest time in analysing the data and look for patterns and issues. If you don’t have the skills or time to do this or you are not willing to action the findings, then it’s not going to be for you. For some people any excuse to not do something is the only excuse needed. For others every red light is just another solution to solve and another step closer to the goal. If you have a team of people like this working with you anything is possible.
I also hear businesses saying “we don’t have the skills”. Most universities or institutes of technologies are more than willing to partner up with industry, especially in this field. Sites like Fiver offer programming skills at a cheap price without needing to hire more staff or drain other resources.

Vital to making this work is having a clear vision and goals. In the past five years alone we have use systems like I described above at ANCA to reduce tooling costs on CNC machines, reduce tool change times, save cost for air-conditioning, predicted maintenance by monitoring power consumption over time, and  saved energy costs. One of these projects alone could have paid for the implementation of the building management system and the hardware. We then went on to improve other areas of our production.
Factories can use the Industry 4.0 data for different strategies depending on what they are trying to achieve. Lean manufacturing is fundamental to getting Industry 4.0 right. Start by going through the end-to-end supply chain and find bottlenecks to shorten lead time and review each process. Monitor performance and output. Use real-time data to see how your machines are working. Check that the quality is maintained.
This might seem like a lot of effort, but I have seen many businesses realise the effect on their ROI quickly. Even with the cost of automation, we’re finding that the payoff is very short – literally months. With the current hype and push for industry 4.0 and IIOT the move to robot welding makes another step towards the factory of the future. Looking off into the near future with advancements in A.I. and computer vision we will start to see vision systems and simulation software removing robot welding programming times, drastically improving cycle times and adding in process checks  to further improve the golden triangle of Quality, Cost and Delivery.

29 April 2021