The sheet metal fabrication industry is key to our society in both an economical and infrastructural sense. Metal fabrication itself has been around in one form or another for centuries. In today’s blog, though, we’re going to be talking all about the future and where the industry can go from here. With the rise of automated machines and developments in artificial intelligence, will the metal fabrication industry continue to thrive?

Automated machinery

Automated machinery is nothing new. However, it has been remarkably refined in the days since it’s inception. A lot of sheet metal machines nowadays utilise CAM – which allows you to input very specific instructions and parameters so that the sheet metal machine may then perform the job. This is an example of modern automation as the operator simply has to input the instructions and the manual labour is performed by the machine.

Automated machinery and robots have seen low-level tasks in a factory environment be made redundant. With that in mind – and with technology constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible – it’s a safe bet that soon more complex jobs will also be made redundant with these innovations.

If we look at an example put forth by The Boston Consulting Group in 2015, the average welder earnt around $25USD an hour (approximately $37AUD), whereas the equivalent operating costs of a robot to do the same job would’ve been more like $8USD an hour (approximately $12AUD).

When shown using numbers, it’s a startling fact that robots and automated machinery have cheaper overall operating costs. They are also immune to human error – which is something that compromises the quality of a product on occasion. Robots and automated machines are also immune to harm, in a manner of speaking.

3D printing

We briefly mentioned 3D earlier in the year, and rightly so. It truly is a remarkable development – no matter the fabrication industry. With the ability to print metal such as titanium and steel, the process is starting to become even more attractive for metal fabricating businesses.

To be able to 3D print metals, you’ll need to utilise one of two techniques – Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM). Both of these techniques can be used to manufacture steel. DMLS uses a laser to slowly and steadily disperse a powder as it moves across the base that you’re printing on. The laser fuses the powder particles. The laser used during DMLS does not heat the powder enough for it to reach its melting point. 

SLM, on the other hand, uses a high-powered laser to melt the powder layers – as opposed to just sintering it. SLM printed products are significantly denser and stronger in comparison to DMLS products. SLM can only be used to create certain metals such as titanium, stainless steel, tool steel, cobalt chrome and aluminium. It is important to note that SLM utilises a large amount of energy as the powder is heated to beyond the melting point of the metal.

NASA has experimented with SLM to craft parts for rockets. It is a highly desirable and practical form of manufacturing as it allows whole pieces to be created – as opposed to individual components. 

Artificial intelligence

Now, when we say artificial intelligence, we’re talking about a computer mind that learns on its own. Assistants in our smart devices such as Siri can learn and make more accurate suggestions based on your history and activities. It’s the same thing with the future of metal fabrication. It’s already happening. 

This article published earlier in the year talks about how machines were connected to a central cloud network and would analyse data to become more efficient and automated every time they were used. There are some obstacles still in the way and they’re not widely available at the moment, but the technology is certainly there, and it is on the agenda for future metal fabrication workshops.

Does your workshop need a new sheet metal machine?

Whilst the future of the sheet metal fabrication world is looking very impressive, there’s still a long way to go. In the meantime, ACRA Machinery can help you out with all of your sheet metal machinery needs. We offer new and used sheet metal machines as well as repair and maintenance services.

So, if you require sheet metal machines or related services, please give us a call on (03) 9794 6675. Alternatively, you may also get in touch with us via the enquiry form on our website.