Why doesn’t Industry 4.0 consulting work with sheet metal?

Sheet metal is all around us. In our daily lives, at work, in the machines that make and deliver our food, and even in the machines that make machines … also in the TeslaBot coming soon

(Photo from Tokyo, Japan for my last business trip.)

Sheet metal work, then, is not just cutting plates.

It is a combination of numerous high-tech techniques that transform thin sheet and thin-walled tube into amazing finished products.

Yet most sheet metal fabrication companies struggle to achieve success with digital transformation, especially if they have had some success with software projects in the past.

They then get confused when it comes to the fourth industrial revolution.

Why is that?

This is because most sheet metal fabrication companies provide custom work. In English, it is also called a job shop environment.

Most of our work is unique to a client. Not one product for everyone, but every customer has their own products and requirements. Often in dozens or hundreds of combinations and designs. And we usually make it only by given order.

This while most Industry 4.0 recommendations are based on large batches, often the same or only a few products and continuous production. A totally different customer demand.

To further complicate matters, sheet metal is a subset of manufacturing which is a subset of general manufacturing. And so not a standard process industry, such as oil and gas, something the focus of most Industry 4.0 initiatives.

If you look for software or consulting for the manufacturing industry, you will also get too broad an answer. The manufacturing industry includes everything from the local clothing maker to the local cutter to companies the size of ASML.

In this way, there is a big gap between standard Industry 4.0 models and production software solutions from big names.

If you are going to follow the standard advice of such a model, install sensors all over your plant. That is valuable, of course, but in the job-based approach, the critical link is work preparation first: the people, processes and combination of tools.

Those sensors come later.

How to do it

For smart sheet metal companies, a true Industry 4.0 factory starts with training and strategy. You work from the customer to the factory floor and not the other way around.

Even in super-exceptional situations, such as when you have dozens of machines cutting the same product for days in a row, for example in the automotive production line, flexibility remains an asset for the period ahead.

So again, start with the customer and find ways to make their process smoother, more reliable and more enjoyable. This allows us to order more with less effort. And thus better profits for you.

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