Disruptive technologies – are they good for the foundry industry?

Industry in general sits on a precipice – an edge, a turning point, a revolution – one that is coming whether we want it or not. We’ve seen it before, and it has everything to do with technological advancements. They are already here, challenging old school thinking and disrupting industry in ways that force us to change our thinking. But there is a divide between those who embrace change and those who dig in their heels. The challenges of the future are not going away. Just look at how much industry has changed in the past 20 years. In order to exist rather than become extinct, we need to look at these new technologies that are taking hold in every aspect of life, let alone industry.

Take 3D printing as an example. The technology is flooding industry causing some casualties for those who have not adapted. Its hit areas like prototyping and pattern makers with devastating force. Those who didn’t update their equipment and processes are struggling, yet this is just the beginning. As the technology becomes more robust in the coming years, it will take over other areas causing more companies to close up shop. Will it take over everything? I don’t think so, not in the next five to 10 years. However, the technology is still evolving. We would do well to monitor 3D printing’s advancements and make sure not to discount it.

It is part of the ‘disruptive technologies’ era. Disruptive technologies offer major opportunities and headaches for manufacturers. A new study finds some manufacturers are ready to leverage cutting edge technologies while others are falling behind.

The MPI Disruptive Technologies in Manufacturing Study surveyed more than 400 executives at manufacturing companies around the globe and found that 88 per cent report that their industries and markets are vulnerable to disruptive technologies (29 per cent “extremely vulnerable” and 59 per cent “somewhat vulnerable”). 86 per cent report that their own companies are vulnerable to disruptive technologies (23 per cent “extremely vulnerable” and 63 per cent “somewhat vulnerable”). At the same time, these leaders have high hopes for new technologies along with concerns about how will they implement them.

With so much at stake – and with so much executive worry and hope – you might imagine that these leaders would have strategies in place to evaluate and implement emerging technologies at their firms. Yet less than half (49 per cent) have a company-wide strategy to evaluate emerging technologies, says the study. And a full 20 per cent are just now starting to develop such a strategy.

Other new technologies such as machine learning and big data are not disruptive but rather augmentations to your manufacturing business. Foundries can experience high levels of internal defects due to the complexity of the process. Embracing the digital transformation can only enhance your processes and ultimately your outcome. It is therefore encouraging to see Maxion Wheels South Africa (see stories further on in the magazine) embracing the new tools at their disposal to become leaders.

On the eve of the most important international exhibition for the foundry industry – GIFA (GMTN) 2019 – which takes place in Düsseldorf, Germany at the end of June 2019, it’s encouraging to note that the exhibition will again be well attended by South Africans. To date I have compiled a list of 102 names that I know of who have committed to attend. The amount might be down on the total number of South African visitors that attended the 2015 exhibition four years ago but it is still reassuring that so many are making the time to visit the exhibition and attend the conferences. More importantly more than half of the names on the list are those of foundry personnel.

I am sure the GIFA (GMTN) 2019 exhibitors are going to present a host of solutions that embrace these disruptive and new technologies. I can’t wait to see. The foundry industry could be on the brink of a very disruptive period in its history.