Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

Two Trends Shaping Manufacturing, and What They Mean to You

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.

– Albert Einstein

It’s better to plan and prepare for success in the future, than close your eyes and hope for the best!  Photo: colourbox.com

The truth is, you can’t stop the future, and no one has mastered the fine art of predicting it.  But, you can  put yourself in position to capitalize on change, even without a crystal ball.

“Agile” manufacturing and the increasing role of information technology are two trends shaping manufacturing and the shop floor.  Understanding these trends, and the changes they are making, can shape our decisions as we plan for 2013 and beyond.

Agile Manufacturing

Agile manufacturing is a response to customer demand for customized high-quality, low-cost, make-to-order or configure-to-order products.  Manufacturers are becoming more flexible and responsive to customer needs, helping the industry survive and prosper with continuous and unpredictable change.

There are several factors motivating the move toward agile manufacturing.  As globalization increases, manufacturers must manage worldwide supply chain and customer needs with agile manufacturing.  Rapid changes to technology lead to shortened product and technology life cycles.  Fickle customer demands and market dynamics are other factors motivating agile manufacturing.

To succeed with agile manufacturing, businesses must have faster, better, shop floor communication.  Customer requests need to rapidly reach designers, who make changes to production plans and send the revised plans to operations, who need assurance production is building the correct products.  Management needs to see at a glance the status of the shop floor so they can quickly make strategic and tactical decisions.  The entire process requires streamlined, efficient communication.

For an organization to succeed in agile manufacturing, products and information must move quickly and efficiently throughout production.  Knowledge must be available when and where it is needed.  Mobile manufacturing, or using mobile technology such as tablets, and mobile computers in manufacturing, are important tools in agile manufacturing.

Information Technology

In the past, traditional manufacturing was a labor-intensive mechanical process.  Today, more sophisticated advanced manufacturing is based on information technology.  Success is determined by an organization efficiently moving, producing, and using information both on the shop floor and in the marketplace.

Efficient communication and information technology speeds up productivity, which is the basis of agile manufacturing.  Continuous improvement of process control is enabled when you have real-time visibility of production, increasing and maintaining quality.  “Smart manufacturing” seamlessly links all departments in a production plant, delivering products faster and with a higher quality.  “Smart supply chains” link suppliers to the shop floor, ensuring on-time delivery and enabling lean manufacturing.  All of this is based on communication and information being delivered to the right person at the right time.

Looking at emerging trends can be both exhilarating and scary.  It’s an exercise I like to do every few months as I work on goal-setting.  You don’t need a crystal ball to see manufacturing has changed and is continuing to change.  Technology is driving this change, and technology is changing faster and faster.  The truth is, the old models where manufacturing employees spent up to 60% of their time collecting and processing information inefficiently will no longer work.  The key to success is efficiently using information to guide manufacturing, and businesses better able to meet this goal are poised for success in the future.

What has your business done to meet the growing trend of agile manufacturing?  Have you implemented any manufacturing intelligence projects in your plant?  If so, let us know how it is helping.  We’d love to hear from you!

Next time, we’ll take a look at what you can do when you’re tasked with process improvements in manufacturing.  Membership on a continuous improvement committee can mean more than an occasional lunchtime meeting!

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