It can be a challenge these days to find an article that doesn't, in some form or another, address the future of manufacturing. There is no doubt manufacturing and custom metal fabrication are morphing through technology and the desire to better streamline the entire process. There is almost constant chatter about the “digital thread” in the manufacturing supply chain including the potential it has for custom metal fabrication. The talk has turned from not if, but when and how this digital thread will help eliminate bottlenecks and streamline the entire supply chain in manufacturing.
The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a government funded research and development group, is promoting the digital thread concept. This includes the sharing of data and instant feedback on whether a part can indeed, be manufactured and if various parts can be efficiently assembled through what they call the iFAB initiative. This is an initiative worthwhile to learn more about, especially if you have a vested interest in the future of manufacturing.
What is iFAB?
While it can easily be assumed that iFAB stands for iFabrication (or the International Football Association Board), it is actually a little more complex than that. The iFAB initiative is “instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits”, and it has the potential to be a game changer. It first must be understood that in this application, DMDII defines Foundry as “the network of participating manufacturing facilities and equipment” and “the sequencing of the product flow and production steps, as well as work instructions.” This is a different definition than the foundry we would traditionally visualize as being under one roof. Ultimately, it is the goal of iFAB to better connect the design and manufacturing process across companies, facilities and capabilities. Geography? No longer an issue. In essence iFAB creates a virtual foundry by digitally connecting separate physical facilities. The success of iFAB is dependent on members of this “foundry” following a common model architecture and in maintaining specific rules of behavior and business standards and practices.
Results of a survey sent with the November 2015 Fabricator Magazine state that the greatest bottlenecks experienced by participants were in engineering, programming and scheduling. Processes of the iFAB initiative seeks to eliminate these bottlenecks through more efficient use of resources of the “foundry” via a digital thread. This can be good news for metal fabricators and manufacturers alike.
The Future of Manufacturing and Custom Metal Fabrication
What is the future of manufacturing? Well, in the past we've addressed the topics of Smart Manufacturing and the IoT (Internet of Things), which both seem to be at least on parallel paths to the future. When you include iFAB, we can see that each of these are efficiency and quality focused. They are all designed to better streamline the custom metal fabrication and manufacturing process. These, of course, are always worthwhile goals in our industry no matter how they are achieved.