Machine technology, invest or not to invest

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The machinery and equipment manufacturing industry is Germany’s second largest industry by level of turnover; attaining €212 billion in 2014. More interestingly the turnover level has increased by about 70% throughout the last decade while employment is not at all increasing at the same rate.

Germany is famous for its manufacturing industry, but also to countries like Sweden, the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy, to name o few, manufacturing is by all means not dead and exported to Asia.

The European machinery and equipment sector is dominated by small and medium sized companies that provide customized products and small series to primarily larger manufacturing companies in a broad variation of industry sectors. The companies are typically engineering driven, yet the level of automation varies highly due to tradition, focuses on product development, project management or customer relationships.

Advancing from manual welding to a mature technology such as robot welding is yet a large step to many small industries. The issue is not the cost of investment as such, which is limited to anything from a few hundred thousand euros to a few million euros and with a payback period of 1-5 years, but rather a matter of trigger to invest. Such a trigger can be a need to further reduce production cost, a major change at the production facility, the coming retirement of a long-time welder or simply a wish to increase work-flow capacity. CNC-machines and material handlings are other examples of mature machine and manufacturing technologies.

Stepping up a scale to the very nearby future, the mighty Internet of Things is worth exploring;

  • Sensors; anything from GPS-tracking of component deliveries to force, load, torque, strength measuring, to humidity or vibration measuring, and to measure materials levels for supply chain management purposes.
  • Connectivity and remote monitoring; collecting, reporting and acting on work progress data, stock of materials, machine data, etc. Real data instead of acting on visual observations with the aim to increase productivity and hence the rate of work flow.
  • Integrations and applications; service and maintenance forecasting would be much more accurate integrating machine data and production data with service machine equipment suppliers, likely to have positive effects to life-cycle-costs of production.

Let’s make a simple case of investment: Spend €300k on a welding robot and an additional €150k on a movable platform and cell and one operator will do the work for several welders, at a higher rate of production output. At similar salary level for one person. Add sensors for materials measurement including communication and monitoring for a few hundred thousand euros and the movable welding robot will report to the purchaser, or directly to the supplier, that more materials is needed, while the robot in the meantime continue welding at another station (or switch tool and do painting, cutting or assembling while new materials is being delivered). That is a good case for additional productivity gains and hence higher output rates.

As in any industry change is not always that easy and a trigger is often needed. Welding robots and CNC-machinery are mature technologies while the potential with sensors, semi-automated materials logistics and real data production management requires a bit more in terms of human resources, work shop layouts and supply chain management.

Semi-automating manufacturing will however make European machinery and equipment industry increasingly competitive. Not least due to a higher output rate compared to manual manufacturing. It also offers increased flexibility in design, delivery and change orders towards larger regional industrial customers due to shorter lead times for manufacturing and transportation (compared to Asian production and European or US deliveries).

Need more inspiration? Look at attached link to learn the basics about the wording Internet of Things: http://www.visualistan.com/2015/09/what-exactly-is-internet-of-things.html?m=1

 

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to like, comment, share, tweet, email, etc. Hopefully the Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, will apply. I.e. 80% agree and 20% will give a constructive challenge.

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