If you wish to remain competitive for years to come, you must continuously seek out ways to make your welding process more productive and cost-effective, to stay one step ahead of competitors.
Enter Industry 4.0. This introduction of new technologies and systems represents a wealth of opportunities for businesses working in construction looking to streamline their processes, helping them to become more efficient. In this article, Westermans discuss how you can leverage these technological opportunities.
What is Industry 4.0?
Essentially, Industry 4.0 refers to taking the adoption of computers (which were introduced in the Industry 3.0 wave) one step further, resulting in the automation and enhancement of technology through autonomous systems that are powered by machine learning and data.
Back in 2017, The Fabricator asked their readership if they knew what Industry 4.0 meant, and how it related to their businesses. 78% said they didn’t know.
While some people are dismissing Industry 4.0 as a mere buzzword used by marketers, the fact is, we’re currently experiencing an industrial revolution. Computers are connecting and communicating with each other, and this is something the welding industry can take advantage of, to increase productivity levels.
A faster, better-educated decision-making process
During the manufacturing process, the interconnectivity amongst key welding power sources, software and decision-makers has enabled the ability for better-educated decisions to be reached faster than ever before.
By connecting robots, storage systems, and weld monitoring software, data can be pulled from the process, making the latest information readily available at all times. This information can be sent to a variety of different platforms, so no matter where people are in the world, they can access the data when needed.
This software has the ability to track a wealth of information, including everything from essential joint characteristics and weld duration, to heat input and wire feed speed. The user just needs to select which data they want to track, so they don’t suffer from information overload.
Better management of quality control
Another key benefit of this easily accessible information is the ability to more effectively monitor quality control.
With the entire welding process, and plans able to be accessed by the whole team, and not just the welder, other team members can access adequate data to decide whether to confirm or reject a joint, based on the quality.
The fact that this decision is made based on data, and not just by the naked eye, reduces the number of “unacceptable” joints being signed off, mistakenly having passed quality control. This accuracy, in turn, increases productivity, with fewer joints needing to be redone.
Part of this is down to the traceability that this new technology offers. By being able to track the process from start to finish, everyone who is privy to that information can monitor quality standards every step of the way, reducing the use of excess money and time in the long-term.
Streamline of time-consuming admin tasks
When you think of automation, it’s easy to consider the assembly line, or the actual process of welding joints together. The fact is, robots have been present in this line of work for years, helping to increase the precision, quality, and speed, while reducing the number of inconsistencies and errors.
But actually, they can also help to increase productivity by working in the back-office, undertaking time-consuming admin tasks.
For example, the fact you now have all of this data to hand means that you don’t need to spend time searching for it in your systems. You can also digitise other administrative tasks, such as chasing people for sign off, or filling out paperwork.
The result? Not only is the element of human error reduced, but it also takes the pressure off staff. Instead, they can spend more time elsewhere, such as research into the implementation of further technology Industry 4.0 has made possible, to further increase the productivity of the welding process.
Keeping up with new technologies
With new advancements in technology happening continuously, it can be hard enough determining which will be most beneficial for your company; let alone considering how to ensure you and your employees can operate and maintain it efficiently.
Regular staff training sessions are essential, to get employees fully on-board with new processes.
Another important thing you must consider when implementing and maintaining new technologies is safety. While you are likely to be extremely knowledgeable on HSE’s legislation on welding and welding fumes, if you are introducing robotics into your workplace, then there will be a whole other set of health and safety rules you’ll need to introduce to staff.
Other things to consider
The wave of Industry 4.0 and the interconnection between different types of technology is exciting – especially when you consider the benefits they can bring to construction and your workplace.
However, it’s important to be aware that should you decide to adopt this technology; while it will pay off in the future, you will be required to provide a substantial investment to begin with.
You will also need to factor in regular maintenance checks on all technology you use, ranging from regular robotics, to sophisticated data systems. Whilst hugely efficient when operating effectively, if they shut down, then productivity levels will plummet – something no business wants to be faced with.
From aerospace to structural steel sectors, pharmaceutical to mining; Industry 4.0 represents exciting opportunities when it comes to improving efficiencies in construction and welding. But choose not to explore these opportunities, and you are at risk of being left behind – that’s not a position you can afford to put your business in.