Three Ways to Talk About New Tech Investments
Grainger Editorial Staff
Here are three ways metalworking organizations can get all stakeholders more interested in Industry 4.0 projects.
Technological change is creating a host of new opportunities and challenges for the metalworking industry, with artificial intelligence (AI), big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other Industry 4.0 projects (the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies) all making an impact on the way manufacturers operate, automate and stay profitable.
According to Grainger’s new Metalworking Industry Report, 17% of metalworking companies have high-speed machining (HSM) programs in place while 5-axis/universal machining and multi-task equipment (e.g., twin turret, turn-mill) equipment is being used by 13%, respectively. Ten percent are using 3D/additive for prototyping while 5% are using it for product parts.
Automation is also important to metalworking, with the most popular automation equipment currently in use including unattended operations (18%), quick-change tooling/fixturing (17%), flexible manufacturing systems (12%), and CNC tool presetting (12%). In addition, 21% of companies are using CAD/CAM file revision control/management tools, 14% rely on tool inventory systems, 10% use tool path verification software, and 8% use digital tooling.
Three Ways to Start Technology Conversations
Right now, 48% of metalworking companies are concerned about whether their companies can keep pace with these technological changes, while 44% are worried about their ability to afford that technology. Most feel that the need to stay at the forefront of technology must be balanced against the cost of those tools and software platforms.
Managers and other stakeholders who want to see their organizations keep pace with new technology can use these strategies to get those important conversations started:
- Create clear alignment between the technology in question and its return on investment (ROI). All C-suite executives want to know what their organizations will get out of every investment they approve. Show them why your plant needs that new piece of “connected” machinery by explaining the benefits of IoT, which can provide the real-time alerts and feedback needed to reduce waste, cut costs, and improve customer service. “The manufacturing industry is leading in the IoT because of the revolutionary ways this connected technology has streamlined and simplified various manufacturing processes,” Daniel Newman writes in “Further incorporation of IoT, Industry 4.0 represents the vision of the interconnected factory where equipment is online, and in some way is also intelligent and capable of making its own decisions.”
- Show how the investment will boost profitability. According to Newman, advanced algorithms are transforming the way the manufacturing industry collects information, performs skilled labor, and predicts consumer behavior. “Smart factories with integrated IT systems provide relevant data to both sides of the supply chain more easily, increasing production capacity by 20 percent,” he writes. “Digitizing the industry means lower cost of production, quicker turnarounds, and more efficiently meeting customer demand.” Combined, these benefits result in a healthier bottom line and better customer retention—two primary goals for the C-suite.
- Engage champions throughout the company. Building up capabilities, adapting processes and IT, and driving the cultural shift needed will take years. It’s critical to provide clear leadership from your top management, but equally important is convincing the top stakeholders who will need to roll up their sleeves and implement the desired changes. “One way to line up champions throughout the organization is to educate stakeholders from the outset, for example through technology roadshows and visits to innovation hubs,” PwC advises in Industry 4.0: Building the digital enterprise.
With most companies convinced that they will see an ROI within two years or less for their Industry 4.0 projects, according to PwC, the argument for investing in manufacturing technology is getting easier to win. Within the next five years, advanced implementation of Industry 4.0 will become a “qualifier to compete,” PwC concludes, and will be seen by investors as a qualifier for funding.
By creating a plan of action, involving key stakeholders, and clearly spelling out the ROI associated with any and all technology investments, metalworking organizations can invest wisely not only for today, but for the future.