Notes from the FMA Conference

In the beginning of March I attended the 2017 Fabricators and Manufacturers Association Conference in New Orleans. This is a great annual opportunity to meet with other people in the industry and discuss current conditions and upcoming challenges for fabricators and manufacturers. I attended a number of round-table discussions from various fabrication machine builders and fabricators who updated us on the following:

Data and sensors – Laser cutting and forming machines are collecting all types of data that can be used for decision making and to improve the processes, maintenance decisions, costing, and availability of equipment. This raises questions about how to determine what data is important and how to incorporate that into various kinds of ERP software.

Remote service – Remotely servicing machinery is becoming more common in the industry. For this to work, the machine user performs maintenance while wearing a digital camera that is connected to a service person from the company that built that machine tool. Connected by this camera, they work together to analyze and perform troubleshooting of machine issues, saving the cost of travel and improving response. In this way downtime can be reduced and efficiency improved.

Robotics – Robotics are being implemented in various ways for machine builders in order to address labor needs and efficiencies. There are robots being used to load tools into press brakes while the operator is bringing his material to the machine. As a result, some fabricators are reducing setups from an average of 40 minutes to 6 minutes on repeat parts.

Shawn Dubravac, the conference’s keynote speaker, gave a presentation on Digital Destiny. Shawn walked us through some history of technology and talked about how technology becomes wasted as it becomes cheap and abundant. Three things are coming together in the present day that change how we will live in the future. These are:

  • Digitization
  • Connection
  • Sensorization

These things enable monitors to affect what data we collect and how we use it. Some examples of current products that are utilizing these three types of technology concurrently are baby monitors, Amazon Alexa (which controls various technologies in your home) and the Fitbit, a device people wear to monitor the various activities they do throughout the day.

Technologically as a society, we are approaching the point of massive customization of products. The micro customization of these items will allow for increasing personalization of what customers need and want. We are using voice recognition to use our devices, and eventually our behaviors will build profiles that enable our devices to know what we want and automatically produce or perform our patterned requests.

The next phase in this type of technological development will be adding sensors that will collect data and enable the creation of a three-dimensional space that will change how our young people learn and live. This has enormous implications for every aspect of our lives: economic, social, and personal. We certainly live in interesting times.


–Bob Buist

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