As much as we’d like to make the COVID-19 pandemic a distant memory, it continues to shape how industries operate in 2023. The consequences of global supply chain disruption, labor shortages, the conflict in Ukraine, inflation, and general uncertainty add to metal fabrication and manufacturing industry challenges.
Despite headwinds, the custom metal fabrication market continues to expand, with precision welding services expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2% through 2031. As the industry innovates and adapts to changing times, watch for these five precision metal fabrication trends to dominate 2023 and the years to come.
“Made in America” was once a mantra of manufacturers. But many sent production (or elements of it) overseas in pursuit of reduced material, production, and labor costs over the past several decades.
Those that rely on precision metal fabrication services are reshoring operations to combat inflation and other emerging challenges in the global market. Shipping delays and port congestion have eased and are now considered at normal levels. Transatlantic freight costs, however, are 240% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Expect more companies that leverage metal fabrication and precision welding services to rely more heavily on domestic manufacturing. This likely won’t be a rapid pivot, however, as they’ll need to add capacity, invest in new equipment, and establish relationships with domestic suppliers. Metal fabrication companies that already conduct work for the Department of Defense (DoD) likely won’t face similar challenges. That’s because the majority of their operations must comply with DFARS clauses, NAVSEA requirements, and other governmental regulations that mandate the use of domestically made materials.
The metal fabrication industry will make strides in serving their customers, employees, and the planet in 2023. The aforementioned reshoring practices will help by reducing the use of fossil fuels needed to transport materials. Forward-thinking companies will also leverage technology and state-of-the-art equipment to help further their green initiatives.
Increased adoption of CNC machining equipment and clean lubricants increases efficiency and helps minimize scrap. Maintaining a clean and organized shop floor, maintaining equipment, and following proven processes also play a role in reducing rework and scrap, and ensures worker safety. Even seemingly small initiatives can play a big role in reducing a shop’s carbon footprint, like the use of LED lighting which conserves energy and provides better visibility throughout a facility.
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While automation isn’t necessarily a “new” trend, its adoption is accelerating in response to the difficulties many metal fabrication companies have in recruiting skilled labor. In the past, some workforces feared that robotics and automation would take their jobs. Today, many team members welcome its adoption as a way to improve working conditions, streamline efficiencies, and support their role rather than compete for it.
Workforces and employers alike recognize the benefits of incorporating automation processes into their workflows, especially for repetitive tasks that don’t require a human touch. Automation allows for higher output and productivity, better lead times and quality, and less waste and reworks. Ultimately, automation can help a company grow, meaning its workforce will likely grow with it.
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Adapting to changing markets and customer demands has always been critical in manufacturing. Perhaps like no other time in history, the ability to remain agile has meant the difference between making it or breaking it for some organizations. Continuous improvement and agile processes are driving factors of success, allowing metal fabricators to adapt to changing situations.
Prior to the pandemic, many organizations strived to remain agile and lean by implementing just-in-time manufacturing. It proved to be an Achilles heel for some. This strategy involved minimizing inventory, allowing businesses to cut costs and adapt to changing markets. When supply chain shortages became the norm, some manufacturers were left without materials to make their products.
Going forward, agile workforces need their processes to be adaptable to account for external factors that may not have been part of the narrative in the past. Metal fabricators must streamline inventory management practices and enhance customer service if they expect to compete in the years to come.
Welding and fabrication facilities rely on multiple systems and a hyperconnected workforce. Automation, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, various softwares and applications, communication platforms, customer portals, and other cloud computing capabilities are all critical to success. But they all are subject to cyber threats.
Since the onset of the pandemic, millions of employees across the globe began working remotely, opening a Pandora's box for cybercriminals. The number of cyber incidents has steadily climbed, with global data breaches rising by 70% in the third quarter of 2022 alone. While Russia saw the most data breaches in 2022, the United States remains the single most breached country over the last decade.
Consistent with past cybersecurity trends, weak passwords, system vulnerabilities, and employees who fall for phishing scams continue to be leading sources of cyber breaches. Cybersecurity best practices and ongoing employee training will have an even greater emphasis in metal fabrication strategic plans. This is especially important for those who subcontract for the U.S. government or risk disclosing critical data and trade secrets.
These metal fabrication industry challenges and trends stress the importance of vetting fabricators and asking the right questions up front. Part of that vetting process is submitting detailed RFQs or RFPs that outline project requirements to ensure the company can perform up to your standards. Use our helpful Metal Fabrication RFQ Guide — A Checklist of Commonly Overlooked Specifications to make sure you’re not skipping over any important criteria. Download this helpful resource below.