At a Monday morning session at this year's FABTECH expo in Chicago, Rob McCann made a good point. A business development specialist at the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center (IMEC) recalled how plant managers often call his organization (which receives funding from NIST) to increase efficiencies—that is, to keep their machines running. They felt that their myriad problems—late deliveries, quality problems, and so on—stem from those infuriating, unplanned downtimes, when machines break, when operators are late for work, when scheduling mishaps require extra setup times, and so on.
“So many call on us to help them out with their equipment,” McCann said, adding that this thinking comes from that traditional manufacturing mindset: If machines and people are busy, all is well. But busy machines and people actually don't make money. Completed parts do.
“You want the product to be busy,” he said. “That's how you make money.”
It's apparent that many manufacturers are looking to make significant money in the months ahead. Monday's attendance was the second-largest ever for the annual North American forming and fabricating event. More than 12,000 walked more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space. Today aisles are again crowded, the atmosphere upbeat. Something good is going on with manufacturing.
For show attendees--the savvy, successful survivors of the recession—it's just not about getting more machine uptime. It's about reducing a part's manufacturing time. The faster a piece-part goes from process A to B to C, the better.
That's what so many are looking for at this year's FABTECH show, and exhibitors know it. Manufacturers want to keep parts flowing and setups minimal. As just one example, Bystronic introduced press brakes with displays showing 3-D models of part geometries, showing the bend sequence required. LED lights showing exactly where brake tools go, and exactly where the backgauge fingers are, so that operators can move quickly from bend to bend and from job to job.
Miller Electric showed a system in which a screen guides a welder through a job, showing a 3-D model of the part, specific weld sequences, and greatly augmented welding procedure specifications.
Wilson Tool introduced thick turret punch tooling, which offers a standard holder with a universal punch tip, which makes it possible to use the same holder for various punches. The operator doesn't screw in anything but instead pushes it in the holder and turns the key to lock it in place.
All exhibitors here, of course, tout their products can do it better, faster, and cheaper, but these days “faster” doesn't necessarily mean cut, welding, or bending speeds. In some fields, of course, these speeds matter greatly. As just one example, ESAB yesterday introduced a triple-wire subarc technology in which the central wire remains cool; heat in the arc zone is controlled in such a way as to enable much faster submerged arc welding speeds and, in some cases, a decreased bevel-angle prep, reducing consumable usage. Such technology could greatly help specialized areas like wind tower fabrication, which needs to lay down literally miles of weld metal.
But in high-mix, low-volume arenas, changeover matters, because it enables operators to move from job to job quickly, reduce batch sizes, and get more product out the door in less time. Parts make money, and judging by this year's FABTECH—the busiest in years—some money is being made.