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Four Reasons Why Automation Is the Future of Metal Fabrication

Although automated fabrication was once a relatively niche possibility, more shop managers consider it a viable option. They realize automated metal processing could help them meet new goals. What is fabrication automation and how can it help those who try it?  

What Is Fabrication Automation?  

Automation fabrication strategies encompass a large category. For example, computer numerical control (CNC) machining is a common way to automate metal fabrication. Many facilities are also trying more modern approaches, such as using collaborative or mobile robots to supplement humans’ work.   

People considering automated metal processing for their facilities should think about which tasks are most error-prone, costly or strenuous for workers. Those are often some of the most promising duties to automate first. However, all decisions should occur after consultation with the shop workers. They will have valuable input that those who don’t spend time in a production environment might not realize.   

Decision makers should also examine their budgets, the amount of available floor space, the current number of employees and how automation fits into their current and long-term goals. Determining those things makes narrowing the potential options and selecting the most appropriate solutions easier. 

People should also think about automation prospects in the context of their specific facilities. Could an automated tool allow them to increase output or do more with fewer workers? What is fabrication automation good for that other technologies can’t accomplish? Is now the right time for the company to implement automated fabrication? Many leaders find the ideal time is during a less busy period, so workers will have ample time to get accustomed to new processes and machines.   

There is no universally correct answer because the response varies depending on leaders’ most pressing needs. However, many will become even more motivated once they learn about some of the advantages of pursuing automation.  

1. Address the Labor Shortage 

Research from 2024 suggests fabrication roles will be among the most high-demand occupations in the manufacturing sector. However, filling labor gaps takes time, especially due to the high number of people leaving the workforce due to retirement. People entering metal fabrication careers can learn foundational skills faster and more competently when they have people mentoring them.   

Automation can’t replace mentoring programs and similar on-the-job training. However, it can help shop managers fill labor needs in the short term by allowing fully competent and experienced workers to make the most of their time while the company finds and educates new hires.   

Although many workers may initially feel worried about technology replacing their jobs, they typically realize there’s still a place for them in today’s workforce. Some get to reskill and perform different jobs, including more interesting and higher-paying ones. 

2. Get Better Precision With Automated Fabrication 

The metalworking industry requires stringent deadlines and specifications, meaning the most successful shops must prioritize precise results. Something like choosing a particular blade before starting a project can make significant differences in the outcomes.  

Worker training is an essential part of getting consistently excellent results. However, employees can get tired and distracted, leading to costly mistakes and requiring the shop to set aside time for rework. Automated metal processing could unlock opportunities for more precise results, regardless of the size or type of project.  

At one Nebraska metalworking shop, leaders especially noticed consistency improvements associated with a robotic press brake. Operators trying to manually do that machine’s job often had challenges in positioning the parts for precision-grade forming. However, using the robotic press brake allowed the company to produce the same quality of parts with every use. 

3. Try Automated Metal Processing for Improved Safety

Industrial metalworking environments are fast-paced and demanding. Risks can increase if people regularly have overburdened workloads and feel nearly pushed to the limit during each workday. However, automated metal processing can reduce injury rates and promote a safer and healthier workforce.  

Many leaders initially set workforce goals to promote well-being and satisfaction, knowing that approach brings numerous benefits. For example, a lower injury rate results in workers being in top condition for more days of the year, helping to make their companies maximally productive.  

Additionally, workers will be more likely to show long-term loyalty to their employers if they feel safe and valued. Automation investments can make the work more enjoyable for everyone involved. 

Automated metal processing is also an excellent option for reducing strain. If workers’ roles require loading or unloading large pieces of sheet metal as it goes through various stages, partial or complete automation can save people from manually handling those components.

4. Become a Data-Driven Company 

When metal shop leaders have information about the average time required to complete different projects, typical rework rates, the amount of machine usage time per day and other specifics, they can make useful calculations about whether the facility in its current configuration could accommodate more customers. 

One company has a product that creates a digital twin version of machined workpieces, recording details such as axis movements, acceleration rates and speed. Such information allows people to identify the characteristics necessary for high-quality pieces requiring little or no rework. 

When leaders invest in automated fabrication products with built-in data analysis features, they can also prioritize continuous improvements by identifying bottlenecks and seeing which parts of a process have gotten better or worse over time. The associated information can also reveal whether it’s time to replace specific machines or set aside more time for worker training.  

A Bright Future for Today’s Metalworking Shops 

What is fabrication automation going to do for your shop? The answer varies depending on how carefully you plan the technology’s introduction and whether you set realistic expectations. However, the above advantages are only some of the many perks associated with automated metal processing.  

Leaders can get a clearer idea of what to expect by locating appropriate technology vendors and having in-depth discussions with sales representatives. Automated fabrication is not the best option for every metalworking shop. However, when people know what they want to achieve, it’ll be easier to find solutions that are well-equipped to help them reach those goals. 

All metal shop leaders must explore viable ways to adapt to changing needs and marketplace demands. Automation is increasingly easier to try, making it a practical possibility for shops of all sizes. 

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Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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