Changing Needs, New Technologies and Emerging Trends
A conversation with our experts Roberto De Rossi, Prima Power Senior Manager Business Development & Robotics, and Luca Spadina, Product Manager Bending, on evolving needs and emerging patterns in the sheet metal bending industry.
In recent years, the manufacturing industry has undergone significant transformations, characterized by increasing customization and shorter product lifespans. This shift has led to a reduction in production quantities and delivery times and a rise in quality standards that must be met from the outset. Additionally, the shortage of skilled labor has become a global phenomenon, necessitating a revision of production methods. Companies are also under pressure to reduce material and energy consumption, minimize waste, and provide additional services to remain competitive, as productions have become more complex and integrated. In the sheet metal processing sector in particular, there is a growing demand for finished products that involve cutting, bending, welding, painting, and other finishes, along with a need for product engineering.
These changes have impacted the sheet metal bending industry as well, along with new customer needs and technologies. What challenges lie ahead, and how can players in this sector prepare for them?
CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS
Some of the main needs expressed by customers today are centered around quality, flexibility and production speed.
Geometric precision and aesthetic quality are key to stand out in today’s competitive scenario, allowing a higher complexity of final products and boosting productivity with the reduction of production steps.
Customization is another major need of customers in this industry. Companies with bending machines that can produce components with different shapes, sizes, and features, such as holes and cut-outs, with no need of redesign and set-up time, can meet a wider range of customer needs. Smaller batches are becoming more prevalent, and manufacturers need to be able to switch from big to small runs with maximum flexibility without sacrificing productivity.
Finally, faster delivery time leveraging on high production speed is essential to succeed in today's market. As a result, companies that can deliver their products faster have a strong competitive advantage in the industry.
The sheet metal bending sector is expected to continue growing, also driven by the ongoing global trends. Urbanization is driving growth in the building and construction domains; global warming is increasing the demand for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems while the need for energy self-sufficiency is fueling the market for solar panels and batteries. Moreover, the growing population is affecting agricultural production and, consequently, the market for yellow goods. Lastly, transportation services are evolving to address mobility challenges that cannot be tackled by private vehicles.
In order to maintain their competitive edge, manufacturers must adapt to evolving market needs, while also embracing automation, robotics, and the latest digital technologies. Which innovations are crucial today for manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve?
As it continues to expand, the sheet metal bending industry is facing various challenges, such as shortage of skilled labor, integration and automation of production processes, and the pursuit of sustainable solutions.
The shortage of skilled labor is a big challenge facing the market. Cutting-edge automatized and digitized solutions are needed to relieve operators from low-value added operations, speed up and simplify activities requiring more specialization and reduce the operator’s learning curve.
In order to improve efficiency and reduce lead times, manufacturers are progressively integrating bending machines with other production processes, such as punching, shearing, laser cutting, welding, etc. In this regard, it is crucial for companies to be able to rely on a single partner who can offer and integrate different types of technologies. Moreover, the use of bending cells that incorporate press brakes and panel benders to work in symbiosis, as if they were a single machine, allows to handle a diverse range of applications.
Like many other industries, the sheet metal bending sector is increasingly prioritizing sustainability. Manufacturers need energy-efficient bending machines in order to improve economic efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint.
Servo-electric technology can help companies in the sheet metal bending industry be more competitive in several ways. In fact, servo-electric machines:
- Consume less energy compared to hydraulic or mechanical machines because they only use electricity when needed. This results in lower energy costs and a smaller carbon footprint
- Offer high precision bending with accurate control of the bending angle and speed, which ensures reliability, consistent quality and reduces material waste and scrap
- Perform bending operations faster than hydraulic or mechanical machines due to their high acceleration and deceleration rates
- Are highly flexible and can be programmed to handle different types of sheet metal and bending angles, making them more versatile and adaptable to changing production requirements
- Require less maintenance than hydraulic or mechanical machines because they have fewer moving parts and do not require hydraulic fluid
- Allow to eliminate contaminants such as hydraulic oils which are used for oil-dynamic systems
- Ensure greater recovery and minimal pollution: this is especially important in the context of a circular economy, where sustainability also extends to the disposal and recovery of materials.
Digitization, automation, and robotization
Manufacturers can achieve higher levels of efficiency, accuracy, and flexibility by integrating digital technologies into their production process. Digitization also enables greater connectivity and data sharing throughout the production workflow.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can help optimize bending processes by analyzing data and identifying patterns that humans might not notice, increasing efficiency and product quality while reducing waste. IoT technologies grant real-time monitoring of processes, allowing for rapid adjustments and improvements. They can also enable advanced maintenance, reducing downtime and maintenance costs. Dedicated software and algorithms for managing production parameters and bending corrections allow to achieve the perfect part right from the first time.
Automation, both in application processes and in manufacturing processes, is already helping improve productivity and reduce manual operations in the sheet metal bending industry, and this trend is expected to continue. Robotic systems automate many of the processes involved, from material handling to quality control, allowing unmanned operations 24/7, reducing lead times, and increasing output capacity.
Investing in innovation with a forward-thinking approach ensures a competitive advantage for long-term success.
Why is servo-electric technology better?
The benefits of fully servo-electric technology applied to sheet metal working machines are many and go beyond the more obvious energy savings. It leads to an overall improvement in your production: more pieces, at lower costs, with higher quality and flexibility.
- Lower energy consumption
- High precision bending
- Faster bending operations
- Flexibility, versatility and adaptability Less maintenance required
- Reduced environmental contamination
- Greater material recovery and minimal pollution
How robotics and AI are impacting bending technology?
The sheet metal bending industry is experiencing a significant increase in the use of robotics, both among press brakes and panel benders. In what way is robotics evolving over time?
During the 1980s, the primary objective of robotics was to produce large volume components by replacing humans in tasks that involved high repetition of operations, as well as heavy, stressful or devaluing work. Today's manufacturing needs have changed. The demand for small batches of products with short lifetimes and high variability requires robotics to evolve.
As a result, modern robotics must prioritize programmability (preferably offline), adaptability to different productions, and flexibility. Despite these advancements, robots still require field-testing after programming before they can move to production. One of the key upcoming challenges
in robotics will be to eliminate this testing phase and enable direct production.
How can the adoption of AI technologies create opportunities for the sheet metal bending industry?
Achieving the desired shape and fit when bending sheet metal requires careful consideration of multiple factors, including the material type, thickness, and component shape. Finding the optimum bending angle to achieve these goals is usually a challenging and time-consuming task.
For example, based on the initial data and all subsequently acquired information, an artificial intelligence system could generate the ideal bending angle and tool selection that will ensure accurate and efficient bending while minimizing waste from the very first part produced.
In the near future we will be able to achieve the optimal bending angle at the first attempt, without failing, and angle control will no longer be necessary to reach the angle but to verify that the bending has been executed correctly. AI technologies can significantly help manufacturers to reduce costs while increasing production efficiency, thus benefiting the entire industry.