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The explosion of Industry 4.0 and associated trends (Internet of Things, Smart Factory, Big Data) has complicated the understanding of this next industrial revolution and its significance. But moving to Industry 4.0 is fundamentally about optimizing production flow, and, as a result, handling more work with greater efficiency and without the need for additional resources.

How can small- to mid-sized fabricators stay competitive in this age of small batches, complex parts and tight margins?  When fab shops are forced to turnaround jobs in days or hours as opposed to weeks, how can build cycles be shortened? Creating a more productive and profitable shop starts with evaluating the big picture to optimize job flow by using software and machines that provide both historical and real-time data to inform decisions.

Where to start? Here are two fundamentals:

(1) Introduce offline programming software.

Many fab shops still program at the machine, reducing machine productivity. A simple first step toward creating a more efficient “digital” factory is to introduce offline programming software. Today’s programming software enables you to both nest parts and create cutting programs in 2D and fold in 3D. Drop in a 3D drawing and the software does the rest. The software suggests the right tools, calculates the correct unfolding, internal radius and bending sequence and how and where the operator should fit the tools to the machine. LVD CADMAN-B software for bending is a good example.

Some may argue that using offline programming software simply moves the problem (unproductive programming) from the shop to the office. This argument is easily countered by automating the generation of bend programs. This is done by working in batches, connecting CADMAN-B to Smart Drawing Importer software, CADMAN-SDI, or adding an ERP connection. While programming at the machine requires you to generate 100% of the bend programs, using the full automation capability of CADMAN-B software reduces manual programming to as little as 10 to 20%. That delivers a significant increase in productivity.

(2) Integrate your software systems.

We see this often: growing companies will add software systems for various processes – purchasing, sales, invoicing, production – without giving thought to integrating these systems. No matter how powerful or capable an individual system may be, running systems in parallel is counterproductive. When you integrate systems (i.e., ERP system integrates with shop floor software), you will optimize process flow and realize the gains of digitization.

As technology advances our everyday world, Industry 4.0 is changing manufacturing. While the path to Industry 4.0 is unique for every company, starting on the journey toward smart manufacturing is not as difficult as you may think. We’re here to help with your journey.