November 19, 2021 | By JETechnology Staff
In the modern world of global manufacturing, metal fabrication has long been considered one of the most stable industries. That does not mean that it is not also actively evolving along with growth of the global market. Since the Industrial Revolution, the metal fabrication industry has consistently incorporated new technologies and innovations in order to keep up with consumer needs. As the global markets shift and change in the coming years, the metal fabrication industry will greatly benefit by maintaining an attitude of versatility, flexibility and growth.
Metal Fabrication Trends
Some reliable market research and predictive reports indicate that the following trends, among others, will figure prominently in the metal fabrication industry, both in the immediate future and likely for many years to come into the future.
Many industries have long been resistant towards the use of robots and all robots technologies, primarily due to fears that robotics would replace human labor, and thus job opportunities. While this does remain a concern for some, in metal fabrication, robotics have emerged recently as a valuable asset on the factory floor. Robotics possess high capacity for completing routine, mundane tasks that can often be time-consuming and/or dangerous for human workers.
In part due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, labor shortages have impacted many industries around the globe, and metal fabrication has been no exception to this. Some effects of this current labor shortage have been mitigated by the use of emerging robotics technology, in particular, by that of collaborative robots, also called “co-bots.”
Rather than taking the place of human laborers, these co-bots are meticulously designed to assist and support their human counterparts with simple, repetitive and/or mundane tasks. As such, co-bots and the assistance they provide can increase the efficiency and productivity of human workers. Recent innovations in co-bot technology mean that these types of robotics are more durable and easy-to-program than ever before.
Automation is critical to ensuring the figurative health of both the metal fabrication industry, as well as the literal health of its skilled workers. Automation is an invaluable resource in metal fabrication. Much automation in the industry is performed by computer numerical control (CNC) machines. CNC machines can perform many repetitive tasks, and as such, they can play an important role in reducing, and in some cases eliminating some of the most common repetitive stress injuries that plague many employees. Investing in automation, then, is a relatively simple way to ensure the wellbeing of workers, which is naturally one of the most important considerations for any business that wants to remain viable and competitive in the metal fabrication market.
In addition, automation technology can increase overall productivity, efficiency, and high-quality and versatile outputs with nearly endless possibilities for customization. CNS machines are likely just the beginning for automation technological advances throughout the metal fabrication industry.
In the current moment, 3D printing has been recognized in many market forecasts as the up-and-coming innovation that will likely become a mainstay in a variety of industries moving into the future. Because this type of additive fabrication and manufacturing allows for a great deal of precision and versatility, it is predicted to become a major player in metal fabrication. At present, 3D printing is still a relatively new innovation, and it remains cost-prohibitive for some companies to deploy on a large scale. However, it is nonetheless a valuable new technology that will likely figure heavily in the industry into the future.
In the metal fabrication market, “reshoring” refers to the trend of outsourced jobs and industries returning to the place from which they originated. Unlike other American industries, which have flourished overseas, in recent years metal fabricating has participated in the reshoring trend. Due to the rising cost of global freight transportation, as well as increasing labor costs in many countries —such as China and India —many manufacturers have found that overseas operations are no longer as cost-effective as they once were. The resulting trend of reshoring has emerged in part as an antidote to these issues. Not only can reshoring save businesses money, in many cases, it also results in more oversight and opportunities for in-the-moment creativity and innovation.
Thanks in part to common emerging, innovative technologies like robotics, additive manufacturing and automation, many skilled workers and tradespeople are drawn to the metal fabrication industry like never before. Working in this industry is safer now than it ever has been in the past, with more opportunities for career training and progression. As such, the labor demand is yet another factor and driving force in reshoring metal fabrication here in the United States.
Like robotics, digitization is one of the newer trends on this list, but it nonetheless represents some powerful, impactful innovations in the field. The many diverse applications of digitization mean that, when it comes to this trend, the possibilities are nearly endless. In addition to digitization’s role in developing hard automation practices, so-called “soft” automation processes have also emerged thanks to new digital technologies and developments. The implementation of high-tech sensors into tools and other hardware will allow workers and manufacturers to monitor and measure nearly every relevant metric.
Data-based decision-making is another key benefit of digitization. Technologies like enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems allow manufacturers to assess the functionality and efficiency across nearly every aspect of their organizations. This information can support streamlining efforts and data sharing throughout both specific companies and the industry as a whole.
The way that digitization practices are capable of gathering, measuring and analyzing data is crucial to ensuring the future of the metal fabrication industry — these metrics not only shine light onto overall efficiency, but they also allow for greater transparency when it comes to evaluating employees’ skills and overall productivity.
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In a 2018 report from Krolls, 88% of manufacturing executives reported that their companies had experienced at least one cyber attack in the previous 12-month period. Clearly, the need for increased and improved cybersecurity in the metal fabrication industry should be a high-priority concern. As manufacturers incorporate more and more automation and digitization into their organizations, the need for cybersecurity has never been greater. ERP hacks can lead to breaches of sensitive information, from financials to productivity metrics and industry secrets.
There are several common tips that manufacturers can look to in order to support the cybersecurity efforts of their organizations and manufacturing. Educating employees about common hacking tactics, like phishing, is a great first step. In addition, identifying the location of the company’s most important and/or sensitive information — and then securing and backing it up — can protect businesses from ransomware attacks. Likewise, manufacturers will benefit from disaster planning — essentially, the creation and implementation of a disaster protocol as it relates to cybersecurity. This will safeguard information in case of a cyberattack.
The Future of Metal Fabrication (Beyond 2022)
In recent years, the metal fabrication industry has experienced steady growth, due in part to emerging industrialization in developing nations and geographic regions, as well as an increase in infrastructure worldwide. A 2020 report from Transparency Market Research (TMR) predicts a CAGR of 3.5% between 2019 and 2027, and an increased global market valuation of US $23.05 Bn by the end of 2027.
The TMR report gives great insight into predictions for the metal fabrication industry moving forward, including key driving factors, industry concerns and global outlook moving forward.
The metal fabrication industry is segmented and can be delineated by several different considerations, including region, terms of service and end use. Some common services in the industry can include metal stamping, metal punching, metal folding, metal rolling, metal cutting, metal shearing, metal forming, metal machining, and metal welding. Welding, in particular, is predicted to grow steadily in the coming years. Most common end users will continue to include aerospace, automotive, construction, manufacturing and energy and power industries, among many others.
As automotive demand increases worldwide, particularly in developing geographic regions, the need for robust and comprehensive metal fabrication services is predicted to grow likewise. In Western markets, the emerging demand for electronic car manufacturing will likely be the driving force behind this growth, especially in North America and Europe.
In the Eastern regions and markets — specifically in Japan, China, South Korea, and India — the TMR report suggests that the automotive industry, as well as general construction ventures, will be the driving forces behind metal fabrication growth.
Metal fabrication has not been immune to fluctuations in the labor market — and predictions of future trends indicate that skilled labor shortages will continue to be an issue for the industry in the coming years. According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shortages of skilled workers in the United States may have a significant, measurable impact on the industry in the near future. Tradespeople — in particular welders — will remain in high demand. Predictions indicated that the industry would benefit greatly from investing in the education and training of skilled, versatile tradespeople in the coming years.
As labor shortages persist, implementation of automation and robotics — including that of co-bots — will likely emerge as a long-lasting trend in the industry. Fabricators must tap into the potential that automation, robotics and digitization practices, such as ERP systems, can provide in order to remain viable into the future.
According to the TMR report, it’s predicted that the welding segment of metal fabrication will continue to dominate the market. In terms of raw materials, steel and aluminum will continue to be the two most popularly used, with steel being the most popular.
In the coming ten years, TMR also indicates that 3D printing will emerge as one of the most important and versatile technologies to be adapted by the metal fabrication industry. 3D printing will be highly valued in the future, as its capacity to streamline productivity, eliminate waste and simplify processes make it a valued innovation.
Tube laser technology is, without a doubt, one of the most buzzed-about innovations to come about in recent years, and it is predicted to continue to have a big impact on the industry in the future. Laser cutting machines can greatly increase the speed and efficiency of a number of downstream processes. Making use of the similar, highly prized fiber laser cutting technology, tube laser cutting machines will likely emerge as one of the most influential new technologies.
In the coming years, some market reports predict that tube laser technology will see an immense increase and will be put into practice by metal fabricators worldwide. In contrast with sheet metal cutting machines (which can be capable of as much as 12 kW of power), tube laser cutting machines typically max out around 5 kW, in order to preserve the integrity of the tubes. Due to its productivity and efficiency benefits, manufacturers should consider implementing this technology into their organizations, if applicable.
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