How Manufacturers Can Build Resilience

The manufacturing industry is upset by uncertainty over the past two years, due to everything from pandemic restrictions and labor shortages to supply chain disruptions. The way manufacturers operate has changed a lot because of this, giving rise to new trends towards regionalization and localized supply chains. But partial and reactive answers are not enough.

Industry leaders are well aware that the landscape could quickly change again. Change, in fact, is the only constant in today’s economy. With the pace of profound change affecting the industry accelerating, it is more important than ever for manufacturers to focus on building the resilience of their business operations and supply chains. To remain competitive and profitable, they must be able to adapt quickly.

An organization’s resilience depends on flexibility, combining lean and agile manufacturing principles, but it requires an organization-wide approach. You can’t just add flexibility to one part of your operation. Here are five critical areas businesses should focus on to help them prepare for the unexpected.

1. Invest in advanced manufacturing

Industry 4.0 technologies, which have received a lot of hype over the past decade, have generally been hit or miss when it comes to practical applications, but there are several that have proven extremely useful. :

  • Automation and robotics, for example, have improved conditions on the shop floor while increasing speed. They are also helping manufacturers deal with what has been a volatile workforce over the past two years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job growth continues to increase, so manufacturers need to be proactive. Nowadays, workers are not interested in performing the same repetitive tasks. Technologies such as co-bots, mobile robots and high-speed automation not only improve the efficiency of these repetitive tasks, increasing speed and reducing errors, but they allow workers to focus on higher level tasks and improve their own skills. It helps an organization build its ability to adapt to industry changes.
  • To gain flexibility, it is not enough to automate certain processes. It is important to design the whole process, including the simulation of how each production step is automatable. Simulation software can create a virtual representation of factories and production lines before machines are installed. It can create a digital product lifecycle thread – tracking operational metrics such as yield, throughput and time, for example – that will allow team members to identify any difficulties that may arise during the production.
  • Manufacturers can also use visualization and lean methods, such as heatmaps and value stream maps, to design a flexible approach to operations.
  • During implementation, technologies such as augmented reality also enable shop technicians across multiple sites to collaborate regardless of distance by sharing information and best practices.

2. Create diverse and visible supply chains

The disruptions of the past few years underscore the importance of transparency and collaboration between partners in an increasingly diverse supply chain. New concepts are emerging, such as true market demand, which furthers the goal of a single source of truth for industry-wide supply. But for individual manufacturers, it has to start with their own operations.

Leading manufacturers are implementing systems to incorporate real-time data from hundreds of internal and external systems, creating a seamless and integrated view of their entire value chains. These real-time reports can inform manufacturers’ sourcing decisions, while being shared with industry.

3. Focus on quality

Resilience in manufacturing depends on quality control that applies across life cycles. A change at one stage in the process, perhaps resulting from a new supplier or the relocation of a manufacturing process, can have significant downstream implications.

Simulation-executed New Product Introduction (NPI) test cases are essential when a company changes configuration, introduces a significant product change, or undergoes changes on the shop floor. Testing can identify pitfalls that will affect the quality of the final product. Teams should also be sure to communicate with stakeholders during these changes.

4. Open Communication

Despite all the benefits that technological innovations provide, the unexpected will always happen, whether within a company or across the industry (as recent years have shown). Strong and open communication with internal teams, vendors, and partners is key to maintaining resilience throughout a product’s lifecycle. Honest discussions about topics such as risk tolerance, delays, the need for design improvements, and supply issues should be routine.

5. Encourage engaged employees

People are always the beating heart of any manufacturing company. Simulations allow manufacturers to be proactive and visualizations can detect potential pitfalls. Meanwhile, automation brings unprecedented speed and efficiency. But human workers are still the key to everything. They analyze the information from these technologies and decide on their use.

Manufacturers should emphasize retraining and cross-training to improve worker knowledge and skills. It enables them to make quick and informed decisions and allows them to work together collaboratively, which improves a manufacturer’s resilience.

Disturbances are to be expected in manufacturing. In fact, if the last few years are any indication, they may just be a way of life. This is why flexibility and resilience must be ingrained in the operations of manufacturers. Focusing on Industry 4.0 technologies, a diverse and transparent supply chain, continuous talent development, proactive quality management and communication will help organizations thrive no matter the challenge.

But they can’t just focus on one or two of these areas: manufacturers must invest in all five if they want to succeed.

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