Future-forward businesses have their sights set on transitioning to agile manufacturing. After 2020’s pandemic, economic shutdowns, and supply chain disruptions, it’s easy to understand why competitive enterprises are looking for ways -- like agile production techniques -- to streamline operations and seamlessly adapt to change while continuing to build higher quality products more cost-effectively and safely.
The race to stay ahead of the competition isn’t anything new in manufacturing. However, businesses have been limited in what they could accomplish until technology advanced. Thanks to the internet, cloud computing, and a range of other new digital capabilities, manufacturers can now share data across their organizations and supply chains for greater efficiency and productivity. Enterprises now also have the opportunity to connect a wide range of devices, from traditional OT to mobile devices and IoT technology using HTTP, JSON, or industrial protocols like MQTTon the factory floor. This makes data from every facet of the production process available in real time to ensure operations are operating efficiently and at max production.
Manufacturers have also faced security challenges – more connected devices mean more potential for hackers to access their systems and data. However, security technology, including multi-factor authentication, intrusion detection and prevention, and encryption, are hardening systems and giving manufacturers greater confidence in their ability to keep their data and operations secure.
As technology continues to advance, manufacturers will find even more opportunities for enhanced collaboration, innovation, and ultimately, greater agility.
Agile manufacturers undoubtedly had an edge throughout the pandemic. Their ability to adapt to change enabled them to continue to operate, support employees working from home, and find new ways to communicate with team members in different locations and supply chain partners. In some cases, manufacturers were even able to pivot and meet demands for different products.
However, agile manufacturing has a longer play than just adapting during a crisis. Competitiveness into the future of Industry 4.0 requires the free flow of data in real time, smart systems, and automation. Furthermore, customers are demanding products with sophisticated capabilities and customization. Agile manufacturers will have the culture of collaboration and flexibility to meet demands necessary to compete and maintain – or grow -- their market share.
The most important ingredient in developing a successful agile manufacturing operation, however, isn’t technology or processes. Agile manufacturing success starts and is supported with people.
Whether you are hiring for specific skills, such as welding or laser operations, as an agile manufacturer, you also need to build a team of continuous learners. These employees will drive your agile manufacturing culture, not only looking for ways they can do their jobs better but also providing insights that can help you improve your operations beyond their skillset. Also, commit to bringing people on board who are comfortable collaborating to work toward total solutions that span all departments of your organization.
The transformation to agile manufacturing will stall if you make technology your focus instead of your team. If a business deploys a clunky enterprise resource planning (ERP) or another management system without feedback from its team, it will inevitably lead to compromises, less-than-optimal workflows, and sometimes, damage to work culture.
A smarter, more agile-friendly strategy is to empower your team on the front lines so they can find the best ways to solve the challenges they’re facing and choose the tools that are right for them. A platform that gives your team members the agility to create the most efficient workflows is the better choice – whether they’re focused on the shop floor, supply chain, or HR. This strategy doesn’t have to lead to tool sprawl. Choosing a single, extensible platform that offers your team all the options they need will provide the freedom your team needs to devise processes that work best for them within a one, manageable system.
Tools come and go, but people who can solve problems and build efficient processes to adapt to change are your real assets.
It’s vital to acknowledge that your business’s transition to agile manufacturing won’t look like anyone else’s. A manufacturer producing one aircraft per month will require different technologies and processes to support agility than an operation producing 10 million batteries in the same amount of time. Becoming more agile and competitive may mean devising a way to adapt to supply chain changes for the former and eliminating bottlenecks in production for the latter. Work with your team to focus on your specific challenges and the process changes and tools they need to overcome them.
Take stock of how agile your manufacturing operation is now. Evaluate what your team is already doing, then see how you can make it better. For instance, you probably have team members collaborating by sharing information via spreadsheets, email, or text. Consider enhancing their workflows by providing them with tools that make that data available to their whole team, as well as to your purchasing department, supply chain, and more. This is the foundation for a more flexible, efficient, productive, competitive, and agile organization.