Key Trends in Metal Manufacturing

Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are at the center of the latest generation in manufacturing: the push to digitize industry.

Robots and AI already have an important and popular role in a vast number of industries. They enhance consistency and accuracy while decreasing throughput and improving product quality.

This is increasingly being adopted in the metals industry as a means to promote efficiency and connectivity on the factory floor, but also in the laboratory.

According to a survey by PwC in 2014, manufacturers across the globe were already employing robotics technology in one way or another.

Sales of industrial robots lifted by 30% each year by 2017, caused by the extraordinary growth in the metal industry (+55%) as published by World Robot Statistics.

Demand is increasing further in the present day as complete automation becomes closer. Companies are becoming more efficient as they decrease employee fatigue and injuries.

This article looks at three important trends observed in metal manufacturing to show how robots are paving the way to full automation:

1. Creating Efficiencies – The Rise of Cobots

Along with the introduction of fully automated product lines, a selection of industries are using cobots, collaborative robots, which are engineered to collaborate with humans in the workforce.

Manufacturing teams comprising cobots and humans have been reported to attain important cutbacks in employee inactivity and a dramatic increase in total efficiency.

Shortages in labor present a challenge to a great number of manufacturers in foundries today.

Alternatively, situations have been observed where cobots are tasked with the dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks, allowing their human colleagues to have more chances to execute the higher-level functions along with delivering greater consistency, which in turn enhances quality.

A second example can be seen in the manufacturers of large parts, for example, frames and castings for trucks, off-road vehicles, and equipment for construction, mining, and agricultural applications.

They are frequently restricted by their ability to produce and transport 500 kg parts efficiently, safely, and consistently. To optimize quality and throughput, manufacturers of large parts are looking to robots for machine loading/unloading, painting, assembly, part-handling, and welding.

2. 24/7 Factory Floor and Laboratory

Robots can be programmed in metals manufacturing to function 24/7 in lights-out environments for fully continuous production.

In a world where sustainable manufacturing or ‘green’ manufacturing procedures are a hot topic, the benefit of using robots is that they can function in cold and dark environments. This ultimately delivers savings in energy and cost.

Robots can be found on the factory floor identifying which materials are flowing into and through the plant or in a laboratory, analyzing samples to maintain quality control.

Live feedback between laboratory results and operatives allows the operatives to react within minutes. Some may not even have to move from their chair to perform the required modifications.

There is also no possibility that the robots performing all the hard work will be overcome with fatigue. Their role is to work as hard as the analysis instruments.

3. Cloud Robotics

Cloud robotics is an emerging field that allows robots to blend robotic functionality with alternative digital tools such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. When connected to the cloud, robots can share information and live data.

Information is king in the metals industry today, so the ability to make manufacturing control processes and quality assurance more streamlined and efficient is crucial.

This is why we have designed software directly to enable a user to send, store, and recover analysis results and efficiently in a cloud-based service, including controlling a host of instruments from a single location.

The way that technology is advancing currently, there is nothing to suggest that this will not be performed by robots soon, and this is something that Hitachi is looking into.

The increasing focus on the move towards automation, streamlining manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 means that the rise of robots is more prevalent, a reality that all markets will need to adapt to.

The teams at Hitachi are working in synergy with its customers to unleash the power of analysis in the latest generation of metals manufacturing.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science.

For more information on this source, please visit Hitachi High-Tech Analytical Science.

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