Snapshot of the Future of Metal Fabrication
By: Monica Gomez
Anyone who wants to know where career possibilities exist, as well as where their current job is going, would benefit from paying attention to industry forecasts; the industry of metal fabrication is no exception. The metal product industry has been going through quite a bit of change over the last decade, reinventing itself quite a bit after significant changes occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, which reduced the number of mass production assembly plants nationwide. Today’s industry is often managed by smaller outfits that operate with far more nimble programs and functions, that take on quite a bit more of custom work, and that are spread out in far more places geographically. Let’s take a look forward to see where the industry might be headed.
One of the first big trends that appeared (and that continues to grow) is the use of recycled metal. Where recycled metal was once may be 10 or 20 percent of supply, today it makes up more than half of the material used, up to 60 percent. That means there are jobs and careers on both sides of the recycling picture, from sourcing material to be recycled to those consuming it and recreating used metal into new products and constructs.
At some point this figure will likely increase more, but the general demand for metal still far outpaces what is available from recycled sources. So there will continue to be some portion of new virgin metal supply provided. That said, understanding how to source, work with, and manipulate recycled metal is here to stay, especially as companies find themselves sourcing from farther and farther away for new raw supply.
In terms of actual product manufacturing, steel is still a hot commodity and has a healthy demand. This is expected to continue going forward because nothing has been produced so far that would replace the function and purpose of steel on a broad scale. Granted, there have been some interesting inventions with carbon fiber, aluminum and other materials, but steel remains the main building product for infrastructure strength and framework. In fact, steel has been booming in architectural design due to desire for a neo-modern appearance. Naked interiors of rooms and building showing the structural framework have been very popular in new building lobbies, restaurants and more.
3D Printing & Technology
On the production process side of metal manufacturing, technology is king. Knowing the various tools, software, types of systems applied, and how new tools are being invented for automated assembly is key. Those seeking to reinvent their career or start a new one in metal manufacturing will be well served to become as much of a related tech guru as possible. Computers and robot assembly have already established themselves as the replacement for hand labor in large facilities. These same tools are now starting to make inroads to medium and smaller facilities because the cost of the technology is coming down, making it far more affordable. 3D printing allows users to expand the realm of possibilities and could also potentially cut costs and manufacturing time, writes weldingschool.com. 3D printing trends mean there will be a growing demand for those who know how to run and operate such equipment and software.
Finally, the metal fabrication world and related markets are becoming more and more global. Having knowledge of other languages and cultures will go a long way for anyone looking to not just be in fabrication, but manage it from an international customer perspective. This includes remote quality control, sales, manufacturing training, multi-vendor supply system management, and more. The ability to work with different people in different time zones will become more and more important, especially as much of communication is changing to a round-the-clock status in terms of working with people and exchanging information.
So, metal fabrication isn't going anywhere. Instead, the industry is healthy and will continue to see demand in the future, but it will require far more technical knowledge with a heavy reliance on technology for accuracy and engineering.