What are the most powerful, the most disruptive new paradigm-shifting technologies for manufacturing?
That’s a harder question to answer than what people realize, and many people would answer it differently. I’m going to answer it myself in this article, slanted toward welding. But the biggest power of the question lies in the searching and the analysis, because ultimately that’s not the question that needs answered. The question that any leading company executive or engineering manager really needs to answer is this one:
“Which new paradigm-shifting technologies can I take full “disruptive” advantage of in my marketplace segment or new segments?”
Answering that question effectively requires research and analysis, as well as a keen visionary eye. Because in evaluating a new technology for feasibility and disruptive profit potential, you must accurately envision what can realistically be, not what already is. Essentially, you must think innovatively.
Take for example, this recent article in Fabricating & Metalworking on Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) as “the future of welding”, which leads off with this statement:
“This innovative technology is the most disruptive in a generation, leading some to believe hybrid laser arc welding will be a core welding process in the next five to ten years.”
It’s a valuable and thought-provoking article that I recommend everyone read carefully. On quoting processes with these applications I have talked with both ESAB and Trumpf, some of the top leaders. And I completely agree that these are a group of powerful and disruptive technologies that have scarcely begun to be tapped. But is it truly the “most disruptive in a generation”?
No technology can be the magic-bullet solution for every need. Since the typical full investment of HLAW ranges from 1M to 4M USD, and paybacks range from 4 months to 4 years, there are many questions needing answered when considering it for your own manufacturing processes.
WHO you tap for technical expertise (both your internal technical team, and outside suppliers) will be absolutely critical in answering those questions effectively, with accurate vision. Why? As I have seen many times, the #1 cause of failure-to-launch valuable technology is often the inability to effectively capture or properly justify the full cost-benefits of new processes, whether in cost-justification or in quoting models: you will never see in a spreadsheet that the profit margins go from 9% to 28% if you’re only calculating enough to show 9%. If that’s the case, the new approach is usually dead. And if your competitors get their numbers right, or make an instinctive technology decision, you’ll be pushed out of business. You failed to even begin the journey to higher profits and growth.
With those brief thoughts, here is my short list of what I currently see as the most disruptive manufacturing technologies. (Warning: don’t dismiss any of these lightly. Each has stunning potential to create devastating new paradigms for manufacturing companies who harness them effectively. I suggest having your technology team study the latest technology versions of each of these, and come together to discuss them. Make sure your best technical “visionary” is involved, and if you are welding I hope for your sake that you have a degreed visionary welding engineer!)
- TIP-TIG. Don’t allow yourself to assume results from the process name, because you WILL be wrong about this “highly modified” TIG-based one-handed process that needs less skill than manual TIG. Every alloy, every industry, every FCAW or GTAW (TIG) or SMAW application should immediately take a hard look at TIP-TIG. From aluminum boats to nuclear code work, whether manual or automated, this process instantly increases weld quality while increasing output by 2 to 6 times, reducing labor by 50-85%, and lowering consumable costs by 20 to 50%. TIP-TIG drastically changes welding process economics and provides such high weld quality that it is quietly being adopted in many of the world’s most critical welding applications.
- Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) – see link above.
- Laser Scan Welding. Think of a Star Wars Jedi knight doing precision welding with the tip of an invisible light-saber blade, except much faster. Several companies are involved in this process in optics, lasing and integration. The two leading lasing source providers are Trumpf and Rofin-Sinar. (photo below from Rofin video)
- Vision-based CMM’s. Accurex Measurement Systems is an excellent example of this. Select the part from the screen, lay the part down, push the inspect button, wait several seconds while the images from several calibrated cameras are coordinated, and fully detailed reports are ready that have much more power than typical CMM data. Speeds are roughly 3 – 5 times faster than typical CMM’s. No touch, no moving parts, no holding jigs. Imagine.
- Magnetically Impelled Arc Welding (MIAW). This fast welding process successfully welds automotive exhaust sensor bushings with zero defects, and has been scaled up to axle welding, and all the way up to large diameter pipe butt welding.
- FSW (Friction Stir Welding). This process has received considerable technical attention but is more limited in practical application than many of the more common processes. In certain niche areas such as aerospace and shipbuilding, especially with soft alloys like Al and Cu-based materials, it is making notable inroads and gaining momentum.
I also feel a nod of welding recognition is deserved to Fronius‘ continued technology development in the CMT process. With CMT Advanced and CMT Puls Advanced modes, which add polarity reversal and pulsed transfer to the CMT process, the capabilities of the process approach has been expanded even further.
Which disruptive technology will have the biggest welding-manufacturing impact?
TIP-TIG has both the broadest application potential and the lowest investment cost ($15k to 30k entry cost, in USD). Whether using GTAW or PAW as the base process, whether manual or automated, the weld quality improvements and profit margin impacts are staggering. I was at the North American rollout last September in the Philadelphia naval shipyard, and have personally welded with this process and talked to the welding engineers involved – including Siegfried Plasch, the Austrian welding engineer who invented TIP-TIG. There’s a hint: the process isn’t incredible because salesmen say it is, but because welding engineers quickly recognize it as incredible.
At the 2008 Essen Weld Show (the world’s largest welding technology event), TIP TIG received the award for the show’s most innovative welding process.
If you’re in a code-weld environment, or if you construct naval vessels or armored vehicles, or if you work with stainless or Aluminum or Copper or Nickel alloys, if you use TIG or stick, or if you are multi-pass UT… take my urgent warning as a welding engineer who makes no money from this recommendation: investigate TIP-TIG carefully, for your delay is at the peril of your own company and career.
Any other ideas? If you believe you know of a serious “game-changer” (disruptive) manufacturing technology that deserves mention here, please let everyone know in the comments.