Manufacturing is widely considered to be the most powerful engine in an economy. Its ability to add value to raw materials while providing high-paying skilled jobs does more than perhaps any other sector to build wealth and raise the standard of living.
Because it’s such a potentially lucrative sector, competition is intense. There is still a quest to build a better mousetrap, but there is also a push to build a comparable mousetrap with lower input costs. Technology has led the way in these innovations, with computerization of the design, fabrication, assembly, and quality control processes reducing errors and increasing speed.
In time, though, many manufacturers have realized that robust electronic systems are most effective when paired with better materials. The high overhead associated with repairing the most frequently-used components of mechanical equipment has driven many companies to investigate other construction materials and techniques for the machinery they use.
A good example is hard chrome plating. This alloy, which can even be built to a customized composition, provides superior tolerance of very high temperatures in addition to serving effectively under heavy abrasion and movement. Without it, the surface in question would need more frequent replacement, which increases downtime and costs.
Other expenditures can also be increased with weaker materials. With an unpredictable lifespan (even in the presence of a quality preventive maintenance system), substandard metals can fail catastrophically with little or no warning.
These events can injure personnel, making them a very costly problem. But even if workers avoid injury, there can be significant losses. The failed component could damage other components. In addition to damaging complete or nearly-complete products, they can also damage raw materials, rendering them unusable even after repairs are made.
Equipment failure is not necessary for costs to be higher. Softer metals with too much tolerance for movement can yield products that do not meet standards, slowing production and increasing costs. That excessive “play” in the manufacturing process also causes increased energy consumption, which conceals itself through a gradual growth in costs as the equipment deteriorates. This slow decline can make the issue even more difficult to identify.
Just as in the body, a malfunctioning industrial part causes strain on other parts. A press that begins to wear excessively will soon damage the actuator or cylinder that powers it because its movement is gradually becoming more and more untrue. These breakdowns in correct motion pose a real threat in the long term, especially in the risk they pose for a total failure.
Absent that event, though, weak materials can damage so many parts by the time they are discovered that the cost can extend far beyond the outlay for the original part. This significant financial impact can greatly defray the cost of starting out with a higher-grade part if the full cost of energy, materials, downtime, repairs, and injury risks is taken into account adequately.
Innovation continues to be a strong part of a healthy economy, but much of the world has reached a point where it takes more than just new products to push ahead. It also takes new ways of making those products. As more and more firms pay closer attention to their bottom lines by way of their processes, upgrades like improved alloys for equipment will become more and more common.