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A Constant Flow of New Technology

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Friday, February 3, 2017

…continues to flood the metal-fabricating industry with opportunities to improve productivity, quality and safety. As senior editor Lou Kren and I went door to door around the FABTECH show last November in Las Vegas, we both came away enthused about the direction our industry is heading in terms of appealing to the next generation of fab-shop workers. You might call ’em millennials, but here I’ll call them visionaries.

Want to attract, engage and retain these visionaries in your operations? Start looking at, and adopting, some of the cool and useful technology that’s now available, designed specifically for forward-looking fabricators, and their visionaries. A prime example: The Internet of Things (IoT) approach displayed by several FABTECH exhibitors. Machines—laser-cutting machines, presses, metal-cutting saws and others—are equipped with smart features to provide real-time, relevant status information via PC, tablet or smartphone.

(Note: This issue of Fabricating Product News features several new-product introductions seen at FABTECH.)

One area of focus really catching our eye at FABTECH was the adoption of connectivity by machine builders, which promises to grow in use in our industry; the possibilities seem endless. For example, at the Genesis Systems robotic-welding booth at FABTECH we witnessed the Squeaks IoT messaging platform from iGear, used to communicate (think Tweet)—to human supervisors equipped with Apple watches—data related to cell performance or raw-material needs. The same technology was displayed on a stamping press at the Komatsu booth.

And, when touring the Epicor booth, I learned about the impact that mobile solutions are having on metal fabricators. Imagine your lift-truck operators toting ruggedized tablet computers with access to your ERP system (yes, more IoT applications), combined with RFID tags and bar-code scanning technology to help usher in paperless warehousing. Visionaries will love this, and so will their managers charged with eliminating every last bit of human error and with achieving near-perfect inventory control.

Visionaries need managers with the vision and foresight to use next-generation technology, including Industry 4.0/connectivity capabilities. Together they will lead their companies into the future of metalforming and fabricating. The technology already exists, and I am certain it will expand rapidly in both function and availability.

Lastly, managers looking for new ways to motivate these next-gen visionaries must closely read Keith Helfrich’s Innovation Intersection column in this issue of FPN. Too many manufacturers, Helfrich says, continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don’t work and often do harm. Instead, he prescribes a steady dose of “intrinsic motivation.”

“We are motivated by a purpose that’s aligned with our own values,” Helfrich writes. “With a purpose in mind, we strive to direct our own lives—to have the autonomy to make decisions about how best to do what we do. And, we have an insatiable urge to improve our skills and master our trade.

“Business leaders will achieve greater success by aligning their company’s culture with their employees’ intrinsic motivation,” he continues. “By doing so, success will not depend on external factors such as rewards and incentives.”