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What Connectivity Could Mean for Industrial Metal Cutting Companies

August 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


If the words the “Internet of Things” and “real-time data” mean nothing to you or your metal-cutting operation, you may want to lean in. A growing number of industry experts believe these buzzwords may just transform the manufacturing industry.

“Today’s more powerful sensors and devices, connected to back-end systems, analytics software, and the cloud, are transforming industries, right now,” says Sanjay Ravi, Worldwide Managing Director, Discrete Manufacturing Industry at Microsoft in this blog post. “With the rise of these connected operations, manufacturing executives are not only finding new ways to automate and create efficiency, they are also focusing on a big new opportunity for revenue growth—services.”

In other words, forward-thinking manufacturers are finding that connecting their production equipment to the Internet and/or to other devices is providing insight into their internal operations they may not have been able to get otherwise. By gathering production data and then using software to make it understandable, they are improving efficiency and uncovering new service opportunities.

And according to Ravi, this is no passing trend. Quoting research from IDC (commissioned by Microsoft), Ravi says “manufacturers stand to gain $371 billion in value from data over the next four years.”

A recent article from Forbes echoes this sentiment, stating that factories that are connected to the Internet are more efficient, productive, and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. However, the article also says that only 10 percent of industrial operations are currently using the connected enterprise, which means 90 percent are missing out.

The way in which manufacturers can use connectivity will vary by industry and application, but as this article from O’Reilly Radar describes, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity are revolutionizing manufacturing policies and procedures in two key ways:

  1. For the first time, managers can actually know what’s happening on the assembly line to both products and machinery in real time.
  2. That information can be shared, also in real time, with anyone inside or outside the enterprise who could improve their operating efficiency and decision-making with that real-time data.

As the Forbes article describes, companies like manufacturing giant GE, bread maker King’s Hawaiian, and Sine-Wave, a provider of technology solutions, are already taking full advantage of what many are calling the “information revolution.” At GE’s Durathon battery factory in Schenectady, NY,  for example, 10,000 sensors on the assembly line, along with sensors located in every single battery it produces, allow managers to instantly find out the status of production.

This is happening in the metal-cutting world as well. According to this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), one metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

Tim Heston, senior editor at The Fabricator, also sees the opportunities sensors, data, and connectivity offer the metal fabrication industry and its supply chain. “Imagine a future in which you have trillions of sensors able to predict customer demand throughout the supply chain, monitor machine conditions to prevent unplanned downtime; and a future with machine tool technology and manufacturing methodologies allowing shops to change over between jobs within seconds (some of this technology is already here), all synced with customer demands,”  he says in a recent editorial. “In short, imagine a future in which the majority of activities in the supply chain add value.”

Does connectivity have a place in your metal-cutting operation? Could it? At the very least, these are the questions leading companies should be asking. Unless, of course, they are part of the 10 percent that is already connected.