Dealing with Complexity makes us Stronger – with Lean, Agile and Digital
Canadian manufacturers have an excellent reputation across the world for good business practices. We are also uniquely positioned to supply products to local markets. This includes all the small-medium-sized businesses selling to North America. However, catering to a larger customer base with smaller sized orders does add significant complexity such as balancing the need for efficient operations with the need to rapidly develop new products.
This is where understanding and balancing important methodologies could make Canadian manufacturers really stand out with a competitive advantage.
Going Lean, Agile and Digital
Lean methodology is centered around making processes flow and as efficient as possible. Agile methodology allows processes to respond to real-time market demands and supply chain conditions. Applying both sets of methodologies in the design and management of your operations and leveraging digital technologies where possible will maximize value delivery, profitability, and the responsiveness you would expect and require from Industry 4.0 manufacturers.
Each methodology stands alone but is also complimentary as summarized below:
Consider the four pillars of Agile applied from a manufacturing perspective
1 – Modular and Iterative Product Design
Products can be designed to use modular components and features allowing multiple configurations. Once a configuration is selected, the combination of features add up to a customized product with an automatically generated price and Bill of Materials (BOM). This process could be realized in manufacturing through serialized production flows or Engineer to Order (ETO) systems. A second, impactful agile application would be to apply the scrum framework to the Engineering Change Process on both process improvements and product development. Ideas for improvements can be placed in a hopper, prioritized and then assigned to an engineering change sprint that happens in set time intervals to ensure focus and agility. Lastly, 3D printing and rapid prototyping can tighten the feedback loop and make those time-limited sprints possible.
2 – Information / Digital Technology
Having more customized and rapidly improving products could mean a lot of data. Therefore in agile manufacturing it will be important to streamline data-heavy processes like sales, purchasing, production, logistics and more. This can be accomplished through automation, process digitization and leveraging integrated software solutions as well as custom applications. Data integration and applying censor-driven process controls can place information technology at the center of all operations allowing the digital technologies to play a key role in making those processes responsive and adaptive; agile.
3 – Corporate partners / Strategic alliances
A traditional perspective would suggest a transactional outsourcing arrangement, an agile perspective would suggest a collaborative relationship that leverages the strengths and abilities of a group of companies. This involves agreeing to and maintaining a real partnership with data sharing and regular communication. These foundational elements get written up into teaming agreements or alliance charters outlining how to communicate and work together. Communication can also be significantly improved utilizing digital technologies such as creating a common single-source of data among the partners effectively eliminating the costly back and forth that usually occurs between each link in the supply chain
4 – Knowledge Culture
A culture of learning and innovation will be crucial to support agile processes that are constantly changing. This could involve engaging with the customer more often to capture and respond to shifting needs and then implementing the scrum-style Engineering Change process to support improvements to a product or process at regular intervals. This would require training for those in operations to know about the change and implement it effectively. Lastly, skills and competencies can be mapped more dynamically in response to on-going improvements using education technology such as learning management systems (LMS.)
If your business is trying to balance new product development with stabilizing and improving processes, consider learning more about Agile Manufacturing or starting a discussion with us on how to get started.
This article has been inspired by the following resources: