A longstanding Australian supplier of machinery and automation to the sheetmetal industry believes a generational change is taking place where automation will all but replace manual processes on the production line.
Managing Director of Power Machinery, Mr Ken Christensen, believes various aspects of the industry are pointing towards this while machine sales certainly support this forecast.
"Many aspects of sheetmetal fabrication have changed dramatically in the last 10 to 20 years and these are very much dictating the reshaping of the industry," said Mr Christensen.
"These include heightened operator skills, better attention to occupational health and safety, strong focus on production line integration, and a natural regeneration of the workforce bringing in completely new attitudes that are effecting change.
"It is all shaping the way we are thinking about how we bend, cut, punch, shear, press and collate our work.”
"As a supplier of both used and new machinery for this industry, we definitely see a new trend where traditionally manual operators now see the economic viability and sensibilities in automating their plants as much as practicable," said Mr Christensen.
Skills based issues have created the new dominant factor changing the industry landscape. Young operators come into the workforce, representing the next generation, are more likely to be at ease with modern CNC machinery whereas more longstanding staff may prefer traditional methods.
In contrast to the new generation preferring the modern CNC equipment the older manually operated machines literally have to be removed from the building before the longstanding operators will make the leap.
As power machinery supplies both used and new machinery across the fabrication spectrum, the company often fields many points of discussion from confused plant managers but finds that open dialogue always leads to a strategic choice by its customer.
"Occupational health and safety is also a very big issue nowadays - and a potentially expensive issue if not approach correctly," said Mr Christensen.
"In the manufacturing process, it has been shown that one of the most common injuries is back strains so many plant owners are now opting for a significant level of automation or at least ergonomic assistance in the material handling process.”
"Particularly the European machine tool manufacturers are working hard to provide the right solutions; for example, it is common that press brakes will be fitted with a swing devices to support the sheet. This is already prevalent in Europe and with the high cost of rehabilitation is inevitable in most Western countries.”
"A further extension of this is complete robotic bending cells. This essentially takes the laborious side of the bending process out all together.”
"Change is taking place a rapid pace, but the industry is well served knowing that these changes are happening from all angles and complete shopfloor integration seems a very likely outcome and this should benefit fabrication shops of all sizes.”
"Much of it is being driven and integrated by software, and with young minds coming into this workforce with fresh ideas there is likely to be a natural upskilling of the fabrication plant.”
"It is likely to make the industry more dynamic and Australia more globally competitive and far more integrated than anyone would have thought possible less than 20 years ago."