What will post-COVID-19 metal fabrication look like?

Some wonder what metal fabrication will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

According to The Fabricator:

“We’re in the ‘not exactly a rally’ chapter of the COVID-19 recession. That’s according to Lou Zhang, chief data scientist at MachineMetrics, a Northampton, Mass.-based company that offers machine monitoring technology, such as uptime tracking, across various manufacturing sectors. Its data is about as recent as you can get. Activity data reported during the company’s webinar on Tuesday presented machine-run-time data from just the previous day.

“Chapter 1: Mid-January to Mid-April. Zhang divided the recession into three chapters, the first beginning in early February when many manufacturing sectors were ready to reach record highs of utilization. Then came the shutdown in March, with automotive and other sectors performing a dramatic plunge as factories shut down and the lockdown took hold. By March, certain sectors—medical devices and IT infrastructure among them—kept humming along, but they were in the minority.

“Chapter 2: Mid-April to June 30. Zhang called this the ‘uneven recovery.’ Medical manufacturing, which had declined only slightly since March, continued its upward climb. Auto dealer incentives were at an all-time high, planting the seeds for a recovery. Meanwhile, industrial machinery manufacturing and contract manufacturing kept churning along steadily, but at a much lower level.

“Chapter 3: June 30 to Now.This is Zhang’s ‘not exactly a rally’ period. Automotive manufacturing accelerated upward, then flat-lined around mid-August. In fact, activity in nearly every sector Zhang tracked, including contract manufacturing, flat-lined around the same time period. “The industry is in wait-and-see mode,” Zhang said, adding that COVID-19 has introduced a new reality: Future activity will hinge greatly on the virus as well as policy decisions made by state and local governments.

“Also during the webinar, Jerry Foster, chief technology officer of Troy, Mich-based Plex Systems, a cloud ERP provider, presented his findings about year-to-date manufacturing production activity, based on customers’ interaction with Plex software (barcode scans, moved inventory, shipments, etc.). He essentially reported a broad “U,” with North American manufacturing activity plunging and then regaining strength nearly to pre-COVID-19 levels. For Plex customers in Europe and (especially) Asia, the rebound hasn’t been quite so dramatic.

“Presenters emphasized that the data, though extremely current, comes from customers—a representative sample of the industry at large, but not a random one. (For broader coverage, the webinar also included a presentation from Chad Moutrey, chief economist of the National Association of Manufacturers, whose findings mirrored thoseof MachineMetrics and Plex in many respects.) Even so, the presentations point to two trends that might shape the post-COVID-19 future of metal fabrication and manufacturing in general.

“First, immediate data collection and interpretation will become table stakes in manufacturing. Data interpretation will guide internal strategic planning and will be what makes a supply chain truly transparent.

“Second, when it comes to people, location will matter less. All the data-gathering MachineMetrics and Plex do occurs remotely. There’s no need to physically visit the plant and check in on the machine, at least if you want to know whether it’s running or not.

“Beyond MachineMetrics and Plex, many others offer various technologies that make remote work extraordinarily effective. If you want to know how a machine is running, camera systems and various sensor technologies can help. So can augmented reality, virtual reality, simulation of custom automation lines, and more. The technology isn’t new; VR, AR, and process simulation has graced the halls of FABTECH for years. But COVID-19 will almost surely accelerate their adoption.

“Years from now the pandemic might be looked upon as the point where information technology really shifted into high gear, sending ripples (or sometimes tsunamis) to other industries. When location matters less, commercial aviation looks very different, as well as virtually everything else tied with business travel. So will the hunt for top talent, since IT effectively allows people to live anywhere with a good internet connection.

“That said, people are still people, and even the COVID-19 era might not be strong enough to overcome our natural resistance to change. And COVID-19 won’t mean an end to “real” (not virtual) events that spur serendipity, be it the unexpected meeting or knowledge gained at a conference, trade show, or plant tour. And within companies, the gemba walk (looking for waste) on the shop floor isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the need for technical expertise in cutting, bending or welding. But could that fly-in meeting be handled over video chat?

“The virus surely will push the post-COVID-19 society in new directions. The best metal fabricators, rich in data, will adapt and thrive.”

Original Source