There has been a subtle, but perceptible, market shift in recent years.
It used to be online and ecommerce customers were happy to get a product in three to five weeks. They didn’t flinch when a supplier told them it would be 14 days or more to ship a purchase. Today, customers expect their orders in three days or less. Any longer and they’ll look for a new supplier.
Likewise, we’ve come to expect more product options. A black cell phone isn’t good enough. We want to choose from a rainbow of colors, multiple sizes and a variety of digital storage options. If the cell phone carrier doesn’t have the option we want, we know there are other carriers out there who do.
Shifts in Customer Expectations
Customers want more options, shorter lead times and immediate gratification, or they will take their business to the vendor who can deliver. They expect customization, personal service and quick results.
Manufacturing has not been immune to this market shift, which has led many companies to embrace agile manufacturing.
What Is Agile Manufacturing?
Much like agile development, where the focus is on meeting customer needs with close collaboration and shorter development iterations, agile manufacturing prioritizes speed and agility in production. This allows the business to rapidly deliver on customer and market needs — faster production, custom orders and lower costs.
With agile manufacturing, the production process takes a strategic approach to optimizing for speed and agility. The company can respond to rapidly changing customer demand. Production can deliver on shorter windows of opportunity to capture more business and greater market share. You aren’t turning down difficult orders but saying yes when it comes to shorter lead times and custom work.
A Strategy for Agile Manufacturing
To meet this strategy, the production team needs to identify and remove waste in the production process. Support technology that promotes rapid change, shorter production iterations and more responsive production techniques must be used. It means identifying friction in processes and implementing measures that solve problems so work can be done faster and with fewer errors.
As powerful as agile manufacturing can be, many companies haven’t fully implemented it. They don’t have the asset management tools in place to support agile.
Asset Management Supports Agile Manufacturing
When reviewing manufacturing processes, information is often the root cause of friction. When management doesn’t have access to the latest production information, they can’t make the best decision. If a worker has to pause production and find an answer, there is a delay. Switching a machine over means feeding new instructions, new information, into the system.
An effective asset management system pushes information upstream. It provides information to the employee that needs it most and allows for automation that eliminates friction and accelerates production. With asset management working for you, you benefit from:
One feature of a successful agile manufacturing program is identifying and correcting quality issues as early in the production process as possible. The further upstream a problem can be corrected, the lower the production cost. Your asset management program is the key to this information and lets you push error correction further upstream.
Not only that, but management has access to the data they need to make better decisions. Rather than basing decisions on guesswork, you know the status of production and can make adjustments that have a positive impact on the business.
In the past, many metal manufacturers saw waste as the cost of doing business. There was a level of “acceptable” waste that companies lumped as basic production overhead. Eliminating that vestigial waste wasn’t worthwhile.
Improved asset management makes eliminating waste and reducing costs beyond the existing acceptable level of waste possible. Rather than using guesswork in optimization, you can identify exactly where problems happen and implement solutions that work. Audits produce results, not more questions.
With better asset management, it becomes possible to reduce the Customer Order Cycle (COC) and lead time for orders. In the past, orders were taken and placed in the queue for production. Calculating ship time was a matter of adding up the orders at the front of the queue.
With Asset Management, production managers can better adjust production schedules. You know, with precision, where an order is in the process. You can get a global view of inventory, without sending an employee with a clipboard to count slabs in the yard. It provides the information, and production visibility, to easily respond to customer requests faster, drastically shortening lead time.
Information and Asset Management: Fuel for Agile Manufacturing
Information and data have always played a vital role in manufacturing. Communication with workers, and clear work instructions, are just as important as raw material in production. Bad work instructions or poor communication can ruin a product just as easily as flawed raw materials. Asset management, tracking the production and materials process, is an avenue of production information that directly promotes the move to agile manufacturing.
In talking to companies that are successfully embracing agile manufacturing, one comment comes up again and again: “We’re getting better information.” Manufacturers relate that they are seeing problems and opportunities faster and can make better decisions that reduce waste and improve production.
If you are interested in a free collaboration with an asset management or RFID specialist at GO2 Partners, where you can discuss your production needs and review opportunities, then contact us today. We’re here to help.