80 percent of sheet metal fabrication processes have the potential for optimization.
Robots are on the rise. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the number of industrial robots that manufacturers deliver to factories around the world each year, will reach 630,000 units in 2021. A rapid increase when compared to 381,000 units in 2017. “Industrial robots play a key role in the progress of the manufacturing industry,” says IFR President, Junji Tsuda. To this end, robot development has continued with cutting-edge technologies such as industrial image processing, skill learning and artificial intelligence. “These technologies will help to improve manufacturing productivity and expand the range of robot applications.” A study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) also confirms this: Automation exploits unused potential. With its help, 80 percent of the sheet metal production processes can be optimized. The challenge for the sheet metal processing industry lies in finding economical automation solutions, especially for new market requirements such as smaller batch sizes and short-term orders.
Robots aid employees and reduce unit costs.
Cutting, welding and bending are some of the core tasks of the sheet metal processing industry. The automation of these jobs in sheet metal fabrication creates increased productivity and competitiveness – as does robot-supported parts handling at the individual processing stations, eliminating manual, monotone and error-prone procedures. For example, machines for leveling and deburring are now available that are also equipped with robot arms for parts handling.
All employees have to do is to position a pallet with blanks next to the machine. The autonomous machining process then starts. The robot arm uses a camera to detect the stack height and position as well as the orientation of the sheet metal parts. It selects a part gripper to match the weight and size and lifts the blanks onto the leveler’s infeed roller conveyor. After the machining process, the robot arm places the parts back on a pallet. The advantage of this approach to parts handling: Employees no longer have to carry out routine tasks and can concentrate on other tasks while the company’s productivity increases.
Another option for greater efficiency: The linkage of various processing steps. Today, it is possible to deburr and edge round sheet metal parts in one operation along with leveling for example. The advantage: employees no longer have to load and unload the parts multiple times. This saves over 50 percent of the working time. In return, this reduces unit costs significantly below the level of other processes or manual processing.
Digitalization has a positive influence on productivity.
Up until now, sheet metal fabrication processes have often been carried out using isolated solutions that are not networked. Employees have to coordinate the individual stations. This tedious work creates no added value and has had an increasingly negative impact on productivity in the Industrial 4.0 era, which demands more flexibility and speed than ever before. Therefore, the automation of sheet metal fabrication is essential. Just as important: The digitalization and networking of machines and systems to create greater operating transparency and to reveal optimization potentials.
This is where digital assistance systems come into play. Using these systems, companies can collect real-time data about the condition of all of the equipment, carry out proactive maintenance, analyze capacity utilization and optimize energy costs. The workers are also more effective and efficient. That is why digitalization is heralding the end of the docket era in more and more companies. Employees receive information via dashboards that accelerate the workflows. A study confirms: 35 percent intend to use these systems in the future. The benefits of digitalization seem to be beyond question. 85 percent of the companies surveyed stated that the central administration, control and monitoring of networked machines and systems has led to cost optimizations. 78 percent speak of a positive influence on revenue development.