By Dan Janka, President of Mazak
In 2024, economic factors will continue to challenge manufacturers. The manufacturing sector will continue to experience a mild recession as the consumer-driven part of the economy quickly slows. With 10,000 baby boomer generation employees predicted to leave the workforce per day, according to a report by ITR Economics, the labor shortage will also persist in the coming year. On top of all this, wage rates will climb along with interest rates and energy costs.
While the outlook may seem somewhat bleak, the new year will bring new opportunities in manufacturing. Foreign investment, reshoring activity and vertical expansion within certain market segments are and will continue to keep recession in check. Those sectors, according to a 2024 Oxford Economics Outlook, include semiconductor, aerospace, defense, private space exploration, automotive/EV, medical, infrastructure and surprisingly oil and gas.
Faced with both challenges and opportunities in 2024, today’s manufacturers must ask themselves one very critical question: How will we continue to compete in such an economic environment?
The answer: Advanced manufacturing technology. However, yesterday’s technology won’t secure tomorrow’s success.
According to the ITR Economics report, 2024 is the year manufacturers need to “get their houses in order” to prepare for the expected upswing in 2025. In light of this, manufacturers – both large and small – must continue to invest in innovative technology to overcome industry challenges and compete effectively in expected growth industry sectors.
The manufacturing technologies that will allow both include machine tools that provide multi-tasking capabilities as well as those that perform full simultaneous 5-axis part machining. Automation, whether simple or sophisticated, will also play a key role in the future success of manufacturing, as will digital solutions for machine tool connectivity.
Multi-tasking machines allow manufacturers to produce more parts with less capital equipment. They also significantly reduce work in progress (WIP) and maximize the output of existing labor forces while boosting overall part quality. Taking the multi-tasking concept a step further, hybrid-type multi-tasking machines combine additive and secondary processes such as friction stir welding, hot wire laser deposition and high-precision gear cutting into single machine platforms for even more efficient production.
Like multi-tasking machines, those with full simultaneous 5-axis machining capabilities can provide complete part machining with fewer setup changes. Equipped with powerful high-speed lookahead controls, these machines give manufacturers the ability to successfully machine the most complex part designs.
Growth in automation is at an all-time high and can entail systems from simple bar feeders, parts catchers and gantry loaders to cobots, articulated standalone robots or multi-level palletized cells. Automation gives manufacturers the ability to overcome shortages of skilled labor, increase their overall productivity and drive profitability.
Along with machine technology and automation, digital manufacturing solutions are critical to a shop’s success now and in the future. Effective digital connectivity is a must for safe and secure machine monitoring. Further, the data generated is crucial to process optimization and increased machine tool utilization.
Being competitive in 2024’s mixed environment of challenges and opportunities requires examination of and updates to manufacturing technology. In doing so, the industry will be prepared for the new year and beyond.