Efficient Operations Through Agile Manufacturing

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Between high market volatility and increased customer demand, today is manufacturers are finding it increasingly challenging to keep up. While many companies know that adaptability is key in staying competitive in this rapidly changing world, attaining this goal can be more difficult than it should be.

That is why many manufacturers are turning to agile processes. Between customer-focused product design, increased communication between teams, and connected technologies, agile project management can improve quality resolution lead time by 50 percent, while also optimizing product modification lead time and production ramp-up time.

Let is examine a few of the reasons behind the fact that the agile methodology is not just for software development anymore.

Agile in Manufacturing Starts with Lean Manufacturing

Before agile manufacturing, there was lean manufacturing. The concept comes from the 1930 operating model 'The Toyota Way' from automobile manufacturer Toyota. Initially referred to as the just in time method, it has been suggested that Japan adopted this manufacturing methodology to solve a lack of standardization.

The implemented five principles:

  • Precisely specify value by specific product
  • Identify the value stream for each product
  • Make value flow without interruptions
  • Let customer pull value from the producer
  • Pursue perfection
Agile Manufacturing in Supply Chain Management

Today, lean manufacturers focus on eliminating waste as much as possible by cutting all costs not directly related to the production of a product.

Yet, one of the challenges inherent in lean manufacturing involves the supply chain. While lean manufacturing typically supports an increase in efficiency, because plants will only receive goods as needed for the production process, the process can be disrupted by delays in the supply chain. At the same time, the process may add added stress to employees who now have to deal with inflexible working conditions. Therefore, a successful application of lean manufacturing principles requires a company to have regular outputs, high-quality processes, and reliable suppliers.

Therefore, one of the core tenets of an agile manufacturing mindset involves making sure that information throughout the entire supply chain is connected. This way, consumer demands and expectations are clear to suppliers, retailers and the production factory. When the process is running smoothly, a company’s supply chain can align with customer demands and adjust its production plan and schedule to deliver on behalf of those demands.

Applying Agile to the Manufacturing Industry

One of the biggest issues found in manufacturing processes are costly lead times, which vary between support functions and core manufacturing processes. At the same time, siloed functions can slow handoffs between functions, like quality and engineering. This lack of communication can increase the lead time needed to solve issues like customer complaints and process quality which can frustrate buyers and even damage the company is reputation.

Agile, with its focus on process and communication, can help address these issues. When it comes to agile manufacturing, there are four key elements:

1. Modular Product Design that enables products to serve as platforms for fast and easy variation.

2. Information Technology that automates the fast distribution of information throughout the company so it can quickly respond to orders.

3. Corporate Partners that enable improved time to market for selected product segments.

4.Employee Training that creates a culture of rapid change and ongoing adaptation.

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