The vision of completely networked sheet metal production will also remain primarily a vision in 2022. Because in reality, the “smart factory” with its completely networked production processes, AI-supported manufacturing and a higher-level, intelligent manufacturing system is still being thwarted. This is because the vast majority of sheet metal manufacturers use different machines and different software – and from different years of manufacture.
Sheet metal manufacturers see themselves as well positioned in terms of production technology, especially thanks to the existing brand mix, and do not (yet) want to change much about the status quo. Nevertheless, the current trends and innovations in the sheet metal industry show that small, but innovative steps are being taken in the direction of “Sheet Metal Working 4.0”.
Trend 1: OPC UA – communication protocol for platform-independent data exchange
The “machine and brand mix” in the production halls of sheet metal workers mentioned previously makes it necessary for machines of different brands to be able to communicate with each other. Current machines are prepared for digitalisation across manufacturers – and with OPC UA, a communication protocol is on trend in 2022 that standardises the exchange of data between different systems, devices and machines in the industrial environment as part of Industry 4.0 and the IoT. OPC, Open Platform Communications, already enabled manufacturer-independent data exchange in the previous versions. With UA, the “Unified Architecture”, the protocol now has the latest specification of the standard. By moving away from traditional COM/DCOM communication to purely digital (binary) TCP/IP or alternatively SOAP communication, OPC now becomes completely platform independent. It’s a small, but impactful trend that will transform sheet metal working in 2022 and beyond.
Trend 2: Higher laser powers and more automation
Across all manufacturers, the trend towards higher laser outputs for laser cutting systems is unbroken in 2022. With laser sources of up to 15 kW, manufacturers such as Bystronic offer the possibility of cutting sheet thicknesses of up to 50 mm – an area that was previously reserved primarily for plasma cutting. However, the higher laser power does not only bring advantages when cutting thick sheets. Provided the kinematics of the machine allow it, the powerful laser makes significantly higher cutting speeds possible with thinner sheets.
The current machine models are complemented by intelligent functions integrated into the machine. From continuous monitoring with automatic adaptation of the process parameters to the respective cutting process, to continuously variable, automatic adaptation of the laser beam to the material and its thickness, manufacturers worldwide are focusing on a maximum degree of automation for their machines, while at the same time significantly simplifying operation.
Trend 3: Platforms automate business processing
In sheet metal working, the traditional, direct relationship between client and contractor still resembles the processes of 30 years ago. Phone calls are made, quotes are sent out – and in many cases, the bottom line is: “Only expenses, but no result”. The manual workload remains high, even though a significant proportion of requests do not result in an order. A trend that began a few years ago will continue to develop in a targeted manner in 2022. Through strong network effects, digital platforms offer an optimal opportunity to link free capacities at sheet metal workers with targeted customer enquiries. In addition to the machine park and the daily workload, the platforms naturally also take into account the customer’s individual quality requirements. For us, this is obviously one of the most important trends in 2022!
Trend 4: Specialisation for contract manufacturers
Classical contract manufacturers in sheet metal working currently offer their customers full-range processing, whether 0.5 mm steel sheet or the cutting of 30 mm aluminium. However, batch sizes are becoming smaller and smaller and the requirements are becoming more and more detailed to the same extent. Generalists will find it much more difficult to remain competitive in the future. A trend that is already becoming apparent: The world of sheet metal working is becoming more specialised throughout Europe. Generalists will be replaced by highly specialised companies – this is our forecast for the near future.
We hope to have given you a first, brief insight into the current trends in the Sheet metal industry. Do you have any questions about this article or our offer? Or would you like to discuss a specific manufacturing project with our experts? Then get in touch with us right away!
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