Unconnected factories face risk as new strategies take hold

Check out this report on how manufacturers in the metals, automotive, rubber and plastics industries can use these smart technologies to gain a market advantage before their competition does.

The fourth industrial revolution has begun and businesses need to be ready. It includes the addition of smart and autonomous systems partnered with data and machine learning. This will result in smart factories, where assets, processes, people and devices are all connected. Cyber-physical machines will monitor physical processes, create and share information with each other, and make decisions without human involvement. They will use the industrial internet of things, big data, cloud computing, cognitive computing and AI to maximise plant efficiency and productivity while reducing costs and waste.

In a recent Deloitte survey, 86% of US manufacturers thought that “smart factories will be the primary driver of competition by 2025,” and 83% felt they “will transform the way products are made.” In the same survey, 35% of US manufacturers said they had converted at least one factory to smart status or were “currently implementing initiatives related to smart factories.”

Unconnected factories face risk as new strategies take hold

The remaining 65%, however, had not yet acted to move their companies in this direction. Certain trends are expected to impact many of industrial manufacturing equipment’s key segments, including metals, automotive, and rubber and plastics.

In the next five years, industry advances will include the processing of stronger, lighter materials that are replacing steel, machines that produce more complex parts with smaller tolerances at higher speeds, smart “cobots” and SCARA robots operating alongside factory workers, and software that incorporates machine monitoring, reporting, and predictive diagnostics.

Metals industry: US and global markets
According to the US Census Bureau (Annual Survey of Manufactures), US manufacturers’ sales of metalworking machinery in 2019 totalled $31.8 billion.
Of this amount:
• 27% was special tool and die, die set, jig and fixture manufacturing
• 25% was machine tool manufacturing
• 19% was industrial mould manufacturing
• 17% was cutting and machine tool accessory manufacturing
• 11% was rolling mill and other metalworking machinery manufacturing
(This data does not include US imports. It does not represent the total US market for metalworking machinery.)

Worldwide, due to the pandemic, global machine tool consumption fell from $85.6 billion in 2019
to $65.7 billion in 2020, a drop of 23.2% according to the German Machine Tool Builders’ Association (VDW) and Oxford Economics. Supply and demand were negatively impacted by labour shortages, reduced orders, and shipping disruptions which affected global supply chains.

Predictive diagnostics
The integration of sensors, monitoring devices and software enables machines to track and report on their own performance, alerting operators to problems. This enables downtime to be scheduled rather than having an emergency shutdown when the part fails. A wide range of sensors are now available that are small and accurate, able to continuously measure and report on different machine variables and operating conditions.

Continuing labour shortages
Manufacturers were suffering from labour shortages before the pandemic, and this problem will likely persist after the recovery. The most experienced factory workers are retiring, and an increasing number of young people are choosing other occupations. These factors are expected to spur growth in labour-saving automation and digitally driven processes. The latter may even attract and help retain young people in the profession. Many modern machines incorporate features that make them easier to use and more relatable to younger employees, such as touchscreens, app-like controls, and intuitive software.

Increasing focus on aftermarket services
Global equipment manufacturers are offering more aftermarket services to customers, including
maintenance, service agreements, spare parts and other value-added services, which have a higher profit margin than sales of original equipment. Services also allow manufacturers to smooth out their income stream during a slow economy.

It has grown difficult for OEMs to find qualified service techs, especially as older technicians retire, and machines are becoming more complex with the addition of digital technologies. As a result, manufacturers are shifting customer service to online platforms. Some OEMs can now access their machines directly through a VPN, enabling technicians to troubleshoot and solve problems remotely to avoid the time and cost of onsite visits.

This white paper includes both global and US market trends that are driving new thinking, designs, and technologies. It can be viewed at: