Smart Factory solutions How Covid-19 has changed the sheet metal business
UK — The Coronavirus pandemic affected all industries across the globe like no other event in recent history. Smart Factory solutions can help make companies more resilient. How have sheet metal companies been faring during the crisis and what solutions are available for them?
The immediate impact of Covid-19 was the need for staff to work from home if possible, which meant that that tasks like programming the cutting machines and preparing quotations needed to be quickly made operational from home offices. About 40 percent of our customers had an immediate need for this capability as soon as lockdown started. Because of the work that Lantek had already done on remote access in the operation of its Expert software we were able to implement floating licences for our software the same day as we received a request from the customer. We managed to do this without the need to visit the customer’s site using remote access software to set up the applications and ensure that they were working correctly.
The sudden change in the working environment caused manufacturers in the sheet metal industry to re-evaluate their business structures and strategy.
The disruption to normal working practices raised questions about whether new and more efficient procedures could be implemented which would have a long-term benefit for the business. Once the initial problems of home working had been resolved, managers had more time to look into these questions.
Initial difficulties with home working revolved around losing the day-to-day interaction and conversations that take place in an office environment. Working from home effectively stopped this so it was more difficult to coordinate activities and manage teams. Similarly, quote preparation was more difficult especially as speed and accuracy of quoting is so important for getting new business. There is plenty of evidence from our users that the speed with which an accurate quotation can be delivered to a customer has a direct correlation with the likelihood of getting the business. The solutions in Lantek’s MES Manager and Quoting modules are designed to resolve this enabling, the team to know when a job has been completed and accurately find costs from their remote environment.
Volatile metal prices cause additional challenges
Many of our customers realised the importance of taking the next steps forward with Lantek MES and Integra towards a smart factory and, plans which were on a five-year time frame for implementation have now moved forward to within the next twelve months. The important market driver for this is the current volatility of material prices. Material shortages caused by the pandemic have made it difficult to predict metal prices and manufacturers are often faced with very short validity for prices from their suppliers, leading to a fast-moving marketplace. MES can solve this with rapid price updates which would otherwise have to be tracked manually in a spreadsheet — a time consuming and error prone process.
More manufacturers are also looking at traceability and ISO 9000 for their products as part of their strategy to improve their businesses. With Lantek, companies can create a unique identification for each part, tracking the processes and machines used in making it, right back to the material batch it came from. This capability is a key differentiator for manufacturers and gives them access to customers and markets which would otherwise be barred to them.
As part of Lantek’s Integra software, quotations, CRM, stock control and manufacturing control all provide live information about sales, the status of manufacturing, the source of material, its availability and its price - essential information not only for production efficiency and profitability but also for traceability. By moving along the path to smart manufacture companies will get far more control of business KPIs ensuring that existing equipment is used optimally, processes are controlled accurately, parts are high quality and delivered on time and that profitability is accurately known.
Making fundamental changes to how the business is run can seem daunting. However, working with Lantek makes it possible for even the smallest companies to benefit from getting started with smart manufacturing. The steps in its installation can be taken individually and, in any order, making it affordable and easier for the company to successfully implement each change and see results before they move to the next phase. Importantly, Lantek is a leading specialist in the sheet metal industry and develops all the software itself so it is designed to be integrated and work seamlessly, taking the risk out of a partnership with us.