Viewpoints: Advanced Manufacturing Tools Pave Way for Reshoring
By Brian Papke
After years of decline, the percentage of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represented by manufacturing has turned positive and is forecasted to continue in an upward direction. Industrial companies continue to bring work back to this country, and most experts foresee the trend will run well into the next decade.
Reshoring is a tremendous boon for the United States, but once American manufacturers bring these products back from overseas, they realize they must significantly increase their efficiency to remain competitive. Unfortunately, a severe shortage of skilled labor in this country still exists, so acquiring enough talent can be a challenge.
US manufacturers have notably strengthened their efforts to deepen the pool of skilled labor through increased training, apprenticeship programs and collaborations with technical colleges. But when available skilled labor is limited, manufacturers close the gap with automation. And while automated systems are effective for increasing productivity, many manufacturers could still realize substantial improvement if they boosted equipment utilization through the incorporation of MTConnect.
MTConnect is more than just an open connectivity standard. It allows manufacturers to establish, at a reasonable investment, a means to gather valuable information on the use of equipment in their manufacturing operations. With this valuable data, manufacturers can make effective decisions on how to improve equipment utilization. And surprisingly, this can result in double-digit percentage increases.
Of course, manufacturers must combine the power of MTConnect with the advantages of innovative equipment and effective manufacturing strategies to create, in essence, the perfect productivity combination. Key manufacturing strategies include lean and, in the case of Mazak, Production-On-Demand and any others that help reduce work in progress (WIP) and keep production lead times short while meeting the challenges of a broad product mix.
Another key factor that continues to drive reshoring, aside from increased freight costs and foreign labor rates, is product customization. The idea that only one model of an item can meet all the needs of every market is unthinkable these days. And whether consumer goods or industrial equipment, US customers demand products and solutions that match their specific needs. Manufacturers must accept the challenge of these demands, and do so through smaller production quantities, yet still achieve high production volume.
This production scenario makes today’s advanced equipment—five-axis and multi-tasking machine tools in particular—even more critical because they give manufacturers versatility and a first level of automation. These machines combine operations to complete parts in single setups, and MTConnect ensures maximum machine utilization and thus the highest levels of productivity possible.
A growing number of manufacturers have already embraced MTConnect and installed machines compatible with the protocol. In fact, over 500 Mazak machines in the field currently use it. As more equipment suppliers standardize and become compatible with MTConnect, the protocol’s growth will accelerate at an even faster rate.
Even the US government has recognized the value and potential of MTConnect and other digital advances in manufacturing, launching the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Initiative (DMDII).
DMDII aims to further enhance manufacturing in North America through computing, data analytics, intelligent machines and sensing technology to quickly take products from concept to production. We can look forward to a future in which advances in digital technology will be integrated with new innovative machines to create highly agile manufacturing companies that can compete effectively with tough competition from anywhere in the world.
As reshoring steams ahead, automation and system monitoring are the keys to keeping pace with the influx of work. And inside the factories of the future, MTConnect—together with the right manufacturing equipment and strategies—will ensure manufacturers can maximize machine utilization, increase efficiency and continue to boost productivity as even more off-shored work returns to the United States. ME
This article was first published in the March 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.
Published Date : 3/1/2014