Agile manufacturing is a manufacturing methodology that places an extremely strong focus on rapid response to the customer – turning speed and agility into a key competitive advantage. It represents a very interesting approach to developing a competitive advantage in today’s fast-moving marketplace. An agile company is in a much better position to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and fast changes in customer demand.
Agile manufacturing is effective because it acknowledges the realities of the modern marketplace and transforms them into a competitive advantage. It directly addresses the following issues:
Agile is of particular value for manufacturers in countries with large, well-developed local markets and high labor costs (e.g., the United States). It leverages proximity to the market by delivering products with an unprecedented level of speed and personalization, which simply cannot be matched by offshore competitors. It turns local manufacturing into a competitive advantage.
There are four key elements for agile manufacturing:
Lean manufacturing is generally considered to be a precursor to agile. Many lean practices are also enablers for agile manufacturing. For example, manufacturing in small batches (or even better – manufacturing with one-piece flow), fast changeovers, and a culture of continuous improvement are all foundations that pave the road to agile manufacturing.
It is quite interesting to see how lean manufacturing tools and techniques can benefit areas that extend beyond the core lean objective (improving productivity and profitability by relentlessly eliminating waste). Agile manufacturing is one such area.
For any given business segment, ask the following questions:
The 3-Day Car Project (in the UK) and the 5-Day Car Project (in the EU) focused on the idea of transforming automotive manufacturing into a build-to-order system (i.e., each car built for a specific customer order) with delivery times measured in days instead of weeks or months. Considering that the actual manufacturing time for a car is on the order of 1.5 days, this is a realistic goal – although perhaps not yet an attainable goal. But without a doubt – the company that gets there first will have created a significant competitive advantage.