Manufacturers have faced many challenges in the past 20 years, such as increased competition in worldwide markets, a demand for more complex products and pressure from consumers for more options in the goods that are produced. The “one style/color fits all” idea behind the mass assembly line has long passed. Instead, “mass customization” is now the goal for many manufacturers. Everyone wants to buy a higher quality item but not at a higher price. To meet these challenges, manufacturers have had to look at all aspects of how they do business. To remain competitive, manufacturers must:
- understand the business trends that are driving the global economy.
- employ proven and effective management practices and processes.
- understand and capitalize on the competitive enablers of information technology.
- implement proven manufacturing technologies and supporting software.
- appreciate and employ the world-class human resource practices that are attracting today’s best talent and making “best-in-class” companies even more fierce in terms of intellectual capital and skill capabilities.
Manufacturers strive to meet the faster, better, cheaper mantra of today’s economy. To do so, they are looking for new ideas, designs and ways of doing things. They look at each aspect of production, identifying time-consuming or skill-demanding aspects and looking for ways to improve those processes. The challenges for companies relate to product, process and people. Drivers in manufacturing are technology and knowledge. Manufacturing is being continually re-invented. This results from a combination of factors, but it has been a product of improvements in manufacturing technologies.
New technologies prompt new ways of thinking about processes, systems and goals. Those, in turn, have led to new, innovative uses of, and improvements in, manufacturing technology. Improvements in machines and tool materials have resulted in faster production of higher-quality items. Those, combined with a reduction in setup times, have helped make advanced manufacturing processes economically viable. Smarter machines combined in a better, more efficient manner have helped companies reduce labor requirements, inventories and plant size while improving the quality of production and reducing the rework rate. In the CASA/SME booklet titled, “Insight for Adaptation and Survival in the 21st Century,” several manufacturing industry macro-trends were identified. They were as follows:
- Globalization of markets
- Evolving gaps in competitiveness
- Rise of the virtual enterprise
- Use of collaboration for competitive positioning
- The importance of effective supply chain management practices
- Mass customization and savvy consumers
Collaboration among design, manufacturing and support groups within an enterprise and up and down a supply chain is becoming essential. Collaborative engineering tends to minimize leadtimes, design changes, use of critical processes, unit costs, product variability and unrealistic tolerancing. It promotes maximum standardization, supplier knowledge, process predictability and design simplicity.
Collaborative manufacturing is important when several plants, which may be geographically separated, do manufacturing of identical or similar parts, part families or assemblies. The focus of Web-based collaborative manufacturing is on standardization, optimizing processes and tool systems, improvement of manufacturing metrics, outsourcing, quality standards, and information management.
Global manufacturing, a component of collaborative manufacturing, is using worldwide resources to produce identical or similar parts, components and subassemblies with the same quality, within the same timeframe and at comparable cost structures. The Internet is employed to share information across an enterprise. Manufacturers go global to expand to new markets, conduct design and manufacturing worldwide on a 24/7 basis, be a local player, take advantage of local resources and worldwide technology, and save on transportation costs. Further benefits of global manufacturing include:
- creating a global mindset
- greater exchange of ideas
- increased flexibility
- more uniform product quality
- greater standardization
- shorter time to market
- quicker response to changes
Over time, global competitors will market, design and produce locally. The objective is closer, quicker customer contact and lock-in; the expectation is faster cash generation and cleaner, cheaper product flows. It is expected that there will be growth in customized products. To make this method commonplace will require improvements in design, manufacturing and information systems.