Increase agility in manufacturing
From supply chain disruption to production delays, 2020 brought a new host of challenges for manufacturers. While many companies have continued operations through the disruption caused by COVID-19, it’s been far from business as usual.
What does a post-pandemic world look like for manufacturers? Many operations will look for ways to streamline or improve agility in people, equipment and the supply chain.
The World Economic Forum, in a recent white paper about rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic by improving resilience in manufacturing and supply systems, concluded that key imperatives to ensure long-term success include rapid tailoring of manufacturing and supply systems to changing customer behavior; agile manufacturing and supply system setups enabled by advanced technology; and adoption of new ways of working to increase manufacturing resilience.
“During the crisis, companies that were able to respond quickly due to a flexible and agile setup had a clear advantage,” the report states.
In today’s economic environment, it’s important to be productive even with varying demand and to have the ability to adjust manpower and machinery capital to include deployment in other parts of the factory based on product mix and customer demand within challenging economic cycles. It’s also key to utilize labor and equipment solutions that maximize value-added activities and minimize non-value-added activities (such as setup time) and quality problems that include scrap, rework and grinding for metal fabrication and welding.
Metal fabrication and welding are key parts of many manufacturing operations — and an area where companies can find efficiencies that contribute to improved productivity and flexibility overall.
Consider these three factors that can help manufacturers optimize their welding operations in the current environment.
Factor 1: Adjusting to labor needs
The ability to bring in new employees easily and move people within the operation as needed helps manufacturers become more agile. Agility in the welding operation is increasingly important due to the shortage of skilled welders. The American Welding Society (AWS) estimates there will be a shortage of nearly 400,000 welders by 2024, making production capacity harder to maintain for manufacturers.
Welding is a highly diversified field, but one commonality across processes is that it’s highly dependent on hand-eye coordination. It’s important to have employees who are confident in their skills, and manufacturers can do their part by providing technologies that help operators maximize their performance with greater visibility and a wider operating window of the technique used when welding. Some examples include:
- New welding helmet technologies like ClearLight™ Lens Technology from Miller that have led to improvements for auto-darkening welding lenses, improving a welder’s visibility by allowing a greater range of colors to come through the lens. This gives welders a clearer view of the weld pool and surrounding workpiece while welding and improves training cycles and operator performance by enabling better hand-eye coordination.
- Intuitive, easy-to-use welding power sources. More power sources used in industrial and heavy manufacturing applications are being designed with ease of use and simplified interfaces in mind. In addition, machines like the Deltaweld® 350 and 500 are designed with a wider operating window and offer processes like Accu-Pulse™ pulsed MIG technology that are more forgiving to variations in welder technique.
- Welding intelligence solutions that electronically gather data that manufacturers can use to drive positive change. Technologies like Insight Welding Intelligence™ from Miller can provide work instructions while the operator is welding — for immediate feedback to help correct mistakes or inconsistencies — and also help operations track quality levels using real-time data.
All of these technologies can help deliver better weld quality and less rework. When operators spend less time grinding, adjusting parameters or completing rework, they can spend more time welding. As a result, the manufacturing operation can increase capacity for value-added activities, take on more projects and boost revenue.
Factor 2: Choosing flexible equipment
In many cases, automation can be an affordable and flexible way to augment a manufacturer’s workforce. In the right applications, automation can deliver greater weld consistency.
Large, customized automation cells provide benefits for many manufacturers, but in the current disruptive environment where redeployment, lower costs and agility are critical, these larger robotic welding systems don’t provide mobility. They frequently require dedicated support staff with in-depth training on the system to support production, making return on investment difficult within demand shifts.
Smaller, more nimble automation cells may be the answer for many manufacturers who want to implement robotic welding.
Robotic welding cells are available that are easy to install and get running quickly. Miller® PerformArc™ robotic welding systems are available preassembled and prewired. These cells are also designed for easy programming and are agile when the product mix or market shifts within challenging economic cycles.
Smaller automation cells are easier to deploy and provide flexibility from job to job — offering a good first step into the automation space for many manufacturers with no automation experience. Single power and air connections simplify the setup process, minimizing downtime so manufacturers can start using the robotic welding system faster.
In addition, these cells don’t require as much overhead or labor to keep running. A smaller capital outlay plus ease of installation and use results in a better return on the investment — and agility during times of economic disruption.
Factor 3: Relying on data
Running a manufacturing plant on data helps maximize equipment and labor agility for both automated and manual operations.
Evaluating the welding operation is critical when a company wants to improve overall throughput and productivity. Integrating the many aspects of the manufacturing operation using a data-centered approach can help companies optimize production and control costs. Tracking and analyzing weld data plays an important role in this process — and can help companies improve quality and productivity overall.
Another benefit of digitizing the welding environment is the ability to create digital documentation that provides an accurate record of every weld performed on every part produced by the welding operation. This allows companies to reassure customers that parameters and specifications are being followed, and it can help operations track issues that may be slowing down production.
Welding intelligence solutions can deliver work instructions to operators and offer real-time feedback on quality and productivity. These insights helps reduce errors and give operators more confidence to take on new jobs. Managers can also gain more awareness of value-added behaviors with critical people and equipment in the manufacturing process.
Agility in manufacturing
As the welding industry continues to evolve, there are more and more solutions to help manufacturers improve agility in their processes. These are especially important as companies adjust to current industry challenges.
Consider options that help improve labor and equipment agility as well as provide data that can help streamline the weld cell — and both upstream and downstream processes.