Another primary motivator: greater supply-chain visibility and control attainable when working with local or regional partners, which facilitates the ability to meet customers’ demands. Metal formers that have moved production back to North America also say that locating closer to customers helps them to adapt to special orders more quickly, leading to more orders and greater customer trust in choosing them for rush jobs when needed.
Government policies, tariffs and agreements also provide incentives to nearshore or reshore in North America. Notably, a significant source of opportunity comes from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The agreement includes several provisions to promote U.S.-produced automotive parts and to locate the production of energy and autonomous vehicles in the United States. It also offers tax advantages for other manufacturing operations throughout North America.
Six Ways to Reduce Costs Using Automation
When discussing automation, robotics and collaborative robots (cobots), which either can replace or assist workers on the shop floor, immediately come to mind. Exemplifying this technology at work: Somaschini North America LLC, a manufacturer of precision, high-volume steel timing gears. Its facility in South Bend, IN, relies on robotic systems to deliver as many as 800,000 high-quality gears to some of the world’s leading automotive brands each year.
At the same time, metal formers also can gain significant cost savings by automating their business processes through the use of traditional software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution system (MES) and inventory management, along with newer applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML).
Here are six of the most widely adopted business-process automation strategies helping metal formers to reduce costs while improving production efficiency, accuracy and consistency.
1. Streamline compliance and audits. For metal formers selling into regulated industries such as automotive, aerospace and defense, and medical devices, complying with government and industry-mandated quality standards is essential for competing. Real-time process- and production-monitoring data help to maintain regulatory compliance by tracking and validating each production step of a part.
Additionally, when combining the data with ERP, MES, track-and-trace and quality-management software, metal formers can automate the reporting required to complete audits, or otherwise document compliance. This allows them to respond faster while freeing up employee time.
2. Optimize inventory management. Local and regional facilities typically rely on trucking and rail transportation, making it cost-effective to handle smaller shipments, reduce on-hand inventory and support just-in-time manufacturing. Metal formers can gain accurate, up-to-date insights into inventory by capturing real-time data from the shop floor in MES software and automatically updating their ERP system’s inventory management. By understanding, for example, the rate of production, quantity of material being used in production and the amount of scrap available for reuse, metal formers can maintain the right level of inventory to support customers while minimizing carrying costs.
3. Run lights-out or near-lights-out operations. Metal formers can offset the challenge and expense of recruiting skilled employees by running lights-out and near-lights-out manufacturing operations in order to meet production schedules and customer-delivery dates. The integration of a programmable logic controller, which measures and controls manufacturing operations, with sensors, smart devices and ML algorithms can help collect real-time data without human intervention, reducing errors and inconsistencies. When folding real-time production and process monitoring used to collect this data into the ERP and MES software, metal formers can run production shifts automatically and remotely with little to no human oversight.
4. Strengthen production efficiency and consistency. Production teams in many metal forming plants rely on workcenter dashboards that improve efficiency by giving operators only the information and process visibility required to complete their work. This enables operators to focus on their tasks without being overwhelmed by unnecessary data. Workcenter dashboards also help operators quickly identify and fix issues to ensure consistency.
For example, Somaschini relies on integrated ERP, real-time process and product monitoring, quality management, and MES functionality to provide the insights and intelligence needed to fine-tune production efficiency and quality in real time. Its production and quality managers also use statistical process control charts and analysis to continually identify new areas to improve production efficiency and quality over time.
5. Align costs and pricing to preserve profit margins. With continued inflation, it’s no surprise that the Producer Price Index for Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing has seen spikes and fluctuation. Automated adjustments to customer pricing based on current material costs help metal fabricators maintain margins when costs rise and allow them to reduce customer pricing when costs decrease.
This automation is achieved by having raw-material cost data from inventory management shared in real time with the ERP system. Such an automated approach also can save significant team time—with one company cutting the time to update pricing from nearly 2 weeks to 2 hr.
6. Strengthen collaboration with suppliers and contract manufacturers. Metal formers can improve their overall business performance and cut unnecessary costs by implementing supply-chain integration across platforms and applications. This is achieved by combining real-time data with technologies such as ERP, supply-chain management, customer relationship management and analytics. Together, these capabilities automatically deliver the insights needed to identify trends, bottlenecks and opportunities.
Using the insights, metal formers can work with partners and suppliers to improve their decision-making, communication and collaboration—and ultimately orchestrate efforts to adapt to changes in demand in real time without impacting quality. MF
See also: Dassault Systemes Delmia Corporation