What is agile manufacturing?
Agile manufacturing is a way of working that enables flexibility at every part of the production process.
A company that adopts an agile way of working is well placed to respond to changes in customer demand, supply chain issues and distribution challenges, as well as changes in the wider market.
It helps businesses to be innovative and get to market first, whilst their competitors (that haven’t embraced agile manufacturing) take longer to recalibrate their operations.
Agile vs Lean
Lean manufacturing and agile manufacturing both create the same outcomes. They cut costs, create more value, and boost your bottom line. But although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing.
Lean manufacturing involves continuous improvement and cutting all waste from the planning and manufacturing processes. As its name suggests, everything is much leaner.
The amount of inventory that’s needed is reduced, there’s less downtime for workers, all machines and materials are in their optimal location (which also saves time), unnecessary overproduction is minimised, and the number of defective goods decreases.
Agile manufacturing, on the other hand, relates to the ability to change aspects immediately. It lets you respond quickly to changes in customer demand, labour capacity, availability of materials, and so on. As a result, there’s no need to come up with a whole new plan when unforeseen events occur.
Put very broadly, lean manufacturing addresses your internal operations by cutting out the waste from your existing processes. Whilst agile manufacturing makes it easier to adapt to external challenges.
There’s no reason why you can’t adopt both lean and agile manufacturing processes, and they can complement one another.
For example, keeping your stock and raw materials at a minimum helps with cashflow, and reduces storage costs (which fits in with the lean approach). The risk here is that if something changes (such as a sudden surge in demand), you might not be best positioned to increase your production levels immediately.
But if you have also adopted the agile model, you’ll have greater visibility of the whole process from start to finish. This will make it easier to predict demand, delivery requirements, workforce resources, and other variables.
What does agile manufacturing involve?
Traditionally, forecasting is based on historical data. This can be useful and is certainly better than using no data at all. But it works on the assumption that past performance will continue to happen going forward. By its very nature, it doesn’t consider the impact of unforeseen (or external) jolts to the system.
Agile manufacturing takes into account up-to-the-minute data and current market trends, enabling you to have a real-time view of the current situation. It’s therefore not simply a ‘best guess’ of what might happen.
Information flows freely and clearly within (and between) teams. Whether it’s stock control at one end of the process, customer demand at the other end, or anything that happens in between, up-to-date information is available to everyone who needs it.
This has positive knock-on effects on inventory ordering, distribution schedules, and labour requirements.
Historical data still has a role to play, as forecasting can predict expected peaks and troughs in demand. But adopting an agile way of working provides a far greater insight into the real-time situation:
- Using smartphones and tablets, the entire workforce is permanently connected, and everyone has access to all the data they need. Every member of the team can easily make change requests.
- As well as receiving information, all team members feed back into the system, uploading their own data.
- This can help with deploying your resources where they’re most needed. Training can be done via mobile devices rather than having to shut things down for the afternoon whilst employees head to the classroom.
How can agile manufacturing help your business?
An agile manufacturing system lets you start and plan production processes in a quick manner. By adopting the agile approach, you can:
- Have greater visibility over the whole supply chain.
- Switch to ‘plan b’ quickly if any part of your supply chain (either upstream or downstream) can’t deliver for you.
- React to customer demand quicker than competitors, taking advantage of short profit windows (such as seasonal spikes in demand) before competitors have a chance.
- Cut costs by making changes before a crisis occurs.
- Boost productivity and output.
- Offer on-the-job training at the most convenient times.
- Improve customer satisfaction by delivering quality goods on time.
If there’s a national lockdown, a stranded container ship, or a shortage of labour, it can be difficult to come up with a contingency plan.
But by having greater visibility of these situations compared to competitors, you have a time advantage when figuring out viable solutions. If you’ve embraced agile manufacturing, you are well placed to adapt the way you work (rather than having to generate a solution from scratch).
You’ll be more likely to spot warning signs before serious problems arise, and your whole operation will be ready to adapt because of this ability to anticipate issues.
In a globally connected world, many customers now have less patience if they can’t get what they want right away. They expect you to deliver what they’ve ordered on time, oblivious to any problems you may be facing behind the scenes.
If you can’t deliver in this way, you risk losing them to more agile businesses that were better able to cope with the crisis.
How can Advanced’s agile manufacturing software help you?
To successfully adopt agile manufacturing, it’s essential to have software that allows open and clear communication. Data is key to an agile set-up, and information needs to move quickly between colleagues and departments (irrespective of where they are physically located).
Our market-leading offering enables you to synchronise your production process with demand, which subsequently helps to prevent overstocking and materials shortages. It also eradicates the need for different departments to use different systems, as everyone has easy access to a single, all-encompassing solution.
With regards to production, employees can receive personalised instructions and information. They’re also able to collaborate more effectively with their colleagues, and the coordination of tasks is more easily managed.
The system is cloud-based, paper-free, and intentionally simple to use. So, lots of time, energy and money doesn’t have to be lost when getting new starters up to speed. With remote access to a digital platform, there’s less need for training to be done in person, and employees aren’t constrained by their physical location.
Our goal is to remove the headaches that usually come with drawn-out manual processes, allowing you to improve your agility and make more proactive business decisions. To register an interest, or to simply learn more, take a closer look at our Business Cloud Essentials manufacturing software.