2023 is right around the corner, and fabrication shops of all sizes must consider investing in technology to combat the talent pool shortage and alleviate pain points on the shop floor. In addition, the industry is rapidly adopting prefabrication and modular construction on every project, which presents significant growth opportunities, but the scale can only be achieved through automation and integration.
Areas of lost productivity are hiding behind the bustle of the fab shop floor and eating away at profits and potential. As workforce challenges continue, competition is stiffing, and automating fab shops to expand potential is becoming an increased focus for MEP, EPC, and Modular construction firms. Talent is a valuable commodity; whether you’re a one-person operation or employ hundreds, well-thought-out automation solutions can deliver opportunities and resolve systemic issues.
Adopting technology for the fabrication shop isn’t a quick fix or the single answer when considering a technological introduction to support your team and enterprise. The trick to automating is selecting the right solutions with a strategic business purpose and expected outcome.
Many shops are still on antiquated machines and zero technology on the floor. However, technology is increasingly easier to use, and adapting their functions to both large-and-smaller shops is growing. Therefore, technology requires simplicity to sustain efficient and flexible manufacturing and success for end-users.
The New Normal for Fabrication Shops
Advanced technology isn’t meant to replace people. Instead, it’s designed to maximize worker productivity, and the current and next generation of tech-savvy workers require it. Construction firms are beginning to learn how to attract the best talent from this younger workforce; they need a forward-looking operation while investing in tech that keeps workers interested, engaged, and developing their skills.
Investing in new technologies and enhancing employee skills and experience are crucial to attracting new talent. However, overhauling tools and equipment isn’t necessarily the answer because technology can connect to old and new machines.
Manual workflows cause miscommunication, and excessive administrative efforts are also fundamental drivers for construction firms to look to technology to manage their fabrication operations in coordination with other departments. As a result, fabrication shops are prime targets for many types of technology because of the manual steps involved in product delivery.
The high-volume work, managing staff, shifting priorities and schedules, and paper trails make production very complex and causes communication issues in a traditional working environment.
“MSUITE fills this gap and allows stakeholders to update data that automatically reset priorities and indicates delays or schedule changes. In addition, all of those moving parts impacting production and deliveries enable real-time fabrication visibility on more substantial projects,” said Jim Tedrow at Piping Operations Leader at Modern.
Fab Shop Standardization to Eliminate Manual Inefficiency
Productivity Technology enables repetition and eliminates variation throughout the manufacturing process. For example, a press brake station isn’t the only pain point for fabricators in a metal fabrication shop. Forming parts may inconsistently affect welding, assembly, and other downstream processes—one person might work the material differently from the next. Also, between multiple stations and shifts, there’s a potential for variation and error that automation eliminates.
The technology used on shop floors is a workforce multiplier to help businesses focus on process improvements, transparency, and team collaboration.
Empowering the Data Produced by Your Fab Shop
The fabrication shop produces a substantial amount of data that can be a detriment to its bottom line potential if overlooked or incorrectly used. Leveraging technology and analytics to improve operations is not only for large shops. For example, small shops using manual saws can benefit today and see a return on investment by addressing the inefficiencies by installing simple digital tablets at workstations.
Leveraging data and metrics to plan for the future is integral to a business’s survival.
High operator turnover and staff shortages will not change, but the companies investing in technology, employees, and culture will undoubtedly be as efficient and productive as possible.
Industry 4.0 has tremendous potential for construction firms of all sizes and is necessary. Even small shops cannot afford to stand idle. Jackson and Blanc recognized their need to grow. They expanded their fabrication shop capacity and leveraged MSUITE to push the growing number of projects through to stay on schedule and budget.
“MSUITE gives us a competitive advantage to compete with much larger contractors,” said Brian Underwood, Fabrication Shop Foreman at Jackson & Blanc.
Breaking through the noise around buzzwords like implementation, automation and IoT can be overwhelming for construction firms considering technology adoption. However, companies like Shapiro & Duncan are bridging the gap by adopting technology to increase competitiveness. For example, MSUITE provided a new innovative platform to help manage Shapiro & Duncan’s growth and needs for managing staff, activities, and output quality on accelerated schedules enabling them to track, manage, and share critical information across all project stakeholders.
Fab Shop Technology Integration with Machines
Businesses have long-term strategies to stay competitive in many sectors and investing in the future of our industry means installing the technology to help improve machine capabilities.
Many shops require a lot of pieces of steel in varying lengths. They used to buy full-length steel, bring it in-house to machine, and cut it, but this has evolved. Today, the process is to deliver cut parts with short lead times using a solution from PypeServer software to eliminate machine programming.
Imagine Eliminating Machine Programming
Integrating the software into machines is much easier than you think. For example, after sign-off, spooling is completed using MSUITE BIM. Next, exports are sent to PypeServer for nesting and pipe inventory. Finally, spools are seamlessly uploaded to MSUITE FAB for shop data and schedule tracking.
“We utilize a TigerStop cut table for hangers/small bore piping and an HGG machine for larger bore steel piping. Seamless technology and machine integration is the key to helping us do more, better, said Justin Powers-VDC & Fabrication Business Unit Manager at A&R Mechanical.
Brandt integrated MSUITE’s FAB tracking solution with the shop’s Watt pipe cutting machine, demonstrating significant time and material savings.
“Having the machine recognize your ITMs and pipe cut automatically pays dividends, and we use 3DP software. I talked to the fabrication shop manager, and he said we saved 30 to 35% instantly. So if you go from cutting, marking, looking at angles on pipes to automatically cutting with the machine, you will instantly find labor and material savings,” said John Trammell, Director of VDC Technologies at Brandt Companies.
Improving Safety in the Fabrication Shop
Fab shops are prime targets for safety measures, and research proves that fabricating in controlled environments is much safer than on the jobsites with many more risks.
As prefabrication and modular construction grow, fab shops must continue emphasizing safety. A few Metal Fabrication Safety Tips include:
- Identify potential risks beforehand.
- Provide proper employee training.
- Install obvious hazard signs and guidelines at all times.
- Supply high-quality personal protective equipment.
- Install fume extraction systems.
- Conduct and track regular inspections and maintenance.
Shop Technology must be versatile, quick, and frequently change between workstations if necessary. Shops have unique needs, demands, and workflows, and freeing up more complicated and critical thinking-geared tasks for shop floor operators will benefit both employees and employers. In addition, facing a skills gap in the construction industry requires innovative approaches.
Selecting the Right Technology for Your Fabrication Shop
Are you ready? It’s time to build your strategy and select the right software to collect the data. Then, it’s about installing the right tech solution in a fabrication shop to help employees not change everything they know but how to work smarter, not harder.
The right software helps you integrate with machines and optimize workflows to produce higher-quality products at accelerated schedules. The right technology will help reduce costs, increase quality and productivity across your operation, and make your construction firm much more competitive.