February 15, 2015 / agility, blade selection, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, strategic planning
It’s no secret—the U.S. automotive industry is doing well. In 2014, the industry registered gains it hasn’t seen since 2006, and the momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing. According to a recent report from the New York Times, sales of automobiles rose 14 percent over January of last year, with several major auto makers posting double-digit increases in a month that is traditionally slow for U.S. dealerships. Sales forecasts for the next five years are even better. One analyst has even predicted sales will hit 20 million vehicles by 2020, reports Automotive News.
This is no doubt good news for any supplier serving the automotive space, including industrial metal-cutting companies. However, ramped up demand usually means ramped up customer expectations, and suppliers need to be ready to not only meet the needs of automotive makers, but also stand out from competitors vying for the same business.
To help companies strategically approach this market, below are some of the major trends impacting automotive manufacturing. From materials to robotics, customer needs and processes are evolving, and suppliers looking to win (and perhaps keep) the business may need to adjust accordingly.
- Aluminum vs. Steel. One of the biggest shifts happening within automotive manufacturing has been the growing use of aluminum over steel. To meet new federal emission standards, a growing number of U.S. auto makers (i.e., Ford) are using aluminum to decrease the weight of their vehicles and, therefore, increase the fuel economy. Key aluminum suppliers like Alcoa have been reaping the rewards and expect growth to continue on a global scale. However, Tim Triplett, editor of Metal Center News, says that despite the hype around aluminum, the steel industry isn’t losing any ground in the automotive sector. “Just as many headlines heralded new developments in lightweight, advanced high-strength steels,” Triplett says here in an editorial. He adds, “Steelmakers claim the auto industry can meet the government mileage standards by using the new steel alloys, in combination with power train innovations, and at a lower cost than switching parts to aluminum.”
- Tooling Advancements. Regardless of whether or not the use of aluminum outpaces steel, the fact that more and more aluminum is being used by the automotive industry means that metal-cutting companies need to ensure they have the right tools for the job. As a general rule, thefabricator.com offers the following advice when choosing the right tool for aluminum jobs: “Circular saws generally are suitable for cutting aluminum between 0.5 and 6 in. diameter, for high-volume jobs (up to 5,000 parts per shift), and for the best possible finish on the cut piece. Band saws generally make sense for aluminum stock of 6 in. diameter and larger and for shops that are interested in high-speed cutting of aluminum but also frequently cut other materials.”
- Automation Trends. A recent study by Grand View Research Inc. states that the booming automotive industry, climbing labor costs, and market demands for rapid and efficient manufacturing processes are increasing the need for automation in industrial manufacturing. As a result, the research firm expects the global industrial robotics market to exceed $40 billion by 2020. Many industrial metal-cutting companies are following this trend and are investing in automation and computerized controls to make all aspects of the sawing process more efficient. Simple controllers are allowing companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time, and higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving productivity. For example, Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts, is using robotics to gain production flexibility and efficiency. According to an article from Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at the forge. You can read the full case study here.