How Tech Helps Metal Processing Industry Overcome Modern Challenges

By
BC
Bryan Christiansen
on August 30, 2022
Man Industry wearing helmet safety working repair machine in factory.

Metal processing and metal working have been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years. Even today, many industries function downstream from metal processing. But the challenges faced by metal processors of today are much different from the challenges in the prehistoric era.

Challenges in metal processing

The metal processing industry is plagued with various challenges that eat away productivity and profits. The challenges faced by a company in the sector vary drastically depending on the specific metal processing involved and local challenges. Beyond these micro perspectives, the metal processing industry faces some broad common challenges.

  • Complex supply chain: From mining to transporting finished goods to metal buyers, there are many moving parts in the supply chain of metal processors. Managing such a complex system is a daunting challenge.
  • Dynamic customer requirements: Metal processors have to serve two customers: the immediate business that buys metal from them and the end user that uses the products of their clients. Both of these customers have evolving needs that metal processors have to keep up with.
  • Competitive environment: Metal processors face stiff competition from domestic and international players. Overseas rivals are a special threat as they compete with low costs available in emerging economies.
  • Rising costs: From raw materials to labor, metal processors are facing rising costs to sustain their operations. This makes it difficult for them to turn a profit without increasing the selling price to which the customer is extremely sensitive.
  • Labor challenges: Lack of skilled labor is a major challenge faced by metal processors. They have to pay exorbitant wages for skilled employees, raising operational costs.

Metal processors have to rely on various avenues to overcome these challenges. Technology is one such avenue that provides multifold benefits.

Illustration of a maintenance engineer sitting on a clock and thinking of maintenance challenges

Source: Limble blog

Technology in the metal processing industry

The metal processing industry employs different technologies to manage its supply chain, operations, processes, and maintenance schedules. Both hardware and software technologies empower metal processors in different ways.

Metal processors can implement autonomous robots and collaborative robots (cobots) to automate different processes in the plant. Conveyor belts, sorting robots, and shuttlers are some other automated solutions metal processors can embrace. In addition, transportation of materials within the plant can be automated with automated guided vehicles (AGV).

On the software side, some of the tools that can be used are:

The combination of hardware and software technologies has a wide range of impacts on how the metal processing industry operates. Technology helps the industry overcome various challenges. The ways in which technology helps in this regard are explained in the following sections.

Automation

Various hardware technologies used in automating multiple processes were mentioned previously. Automation of processes improves metal processing in three distinct ways.

  1. Less reliance on labor: With processes automated with hardware technologies, metal processors are less reliant on labor. This alleviates the difficulty of finding skilled labor and the rising wages of skilled employees. 
  2. Near-zero error rates: Human operators have a high error rate. Robots and other automation tools have negligible error rates. This helps to run a smooth factory operation without the need for any redundancy.
  3. Improved efficiency: Automated solutions generate a higher output for the given input. This will be reflected in the efficiency and productivity numbers of automated metal processing units.

An illustration of a maintenance engineer working on a robot arm

Source: Limble blog

Material wastage

Metal processing plants have price-sensitive commodities as raw materials. Improper and inefficient processes waste a lot of raw materials while processing them into finished goods. Automation with robots helps to reduce the errors and mistakes in material handling that cause wastage. Software solutions help to manage materials in an efficient manner to reduce wastage. Machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools can be employed to identify techniques that consume fewer raw materials. A reduction in material consumption will be reflected as a reduction in cost and increased profits.

Energy consumption

Metal processing requires an immense amount of energy for its processes. It is one of the major costs faced by metal processors. Modern devices and equipment are energy efficient. Replacing existing equipment with energy-efficient ones can significantly improve energy consumption. Artificial intelligence can optimize the process equation for reduced energy consumption. The optimal solutions can be implemented for a lower utility bill.

Production time

Various factors affect the production time of metal processors. Automated robots can perform processes much faster than any human employee. AGVs reduce the time required to transport materials from one station in the plant to the next. The complete plant operations can be automated in such a manner that they can operate without any human supervision. Once again, machine learning algorithms can be utilized to identify ways in which production time can be reduced. 

One of the factors that increase production time is unscheduled downtimes when machines fail. When they fail unexpectedly, reactive maintenance has to be done, which is difficult and time-consuming. Prevention is better than cure, and the same is true for equipment in metal processing plants with preventive maintenance. Even better, predictive maintenance can detect potential future failures. Armed with this knowledge, plant managers can schedule preventive maintenance actions to eliminate the chances of potential failure. This considerably saves production time in the long run.

Safety

Robots execute activities with a high level of accuracy and precision. This reduces the chance of any faults that could hurt people or machinery in the plant. The near-zero error rates of most modern robots are significant in achieving higher plant safety levels. Remote and dangerous tasks previously accomplished by human employees can be delegated to robots, drones, and other autonomous tools. A combination of these technologies radically improves safety in metal processing plants.

Wrapping up…

Technology is an enabler in every industrial sector on this planet. Metal processing plants are no different, and technology can be used to a great extent to overcome various challenges. Hardware and software technologies can improve processes, material management, and energy consumption in metal processing units. The benefits of technology implementation manifest in different ways, such as reduced production time, improved efficiency, increased safety, reduced costs, etc. Technology helps metal processors overcome operational and business challenges to obtain higher utilization and profitability.

 

Bryan Christiansen

Bryan Christiansen, Founder and CEO of Limble CMMS

“As maintenance plays a major part in the materials industry, I felt the need to introduce the topic to the readership at Matmatch!”

 

*This article is the work of the guest author shown above. The guest author is solely responsible for the accuracy and the legality of their content. The content of the article and the views expressed therein are solely those of this author and do not reflect the views of Matmatch or of any present or past employers, academic institutions, professional societies, or organizations the author is currently or was previously affiliated with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.