Strong Foundations Withstand Market Pressures

img_manufacturing-intelligence.jpgOn any given day, there seems to be a new hot product or something else trendy like a YouTube clip that everyone has seen except you. Keeping up with the newest and latest is next to impossible. Consumer preferences seem to change by the minute, and plant lines don’t. Every time a new trend pops up, some manufacturer hits the jackpot. While competitors attempt to adjust, the winner takes all and there is already something else new and shiny in the market. Except, there’s a flaw in the story. The winners and trends aren’t as haphazard as they seem, and consumers aren’t as fickle. Manufacturing fundamentals have stayed the same.

Keeping up with the competition is still about efficiency

The formula of producing more products using less resources hasn’t changed, but the details of what constitutes “products” and “resources” has become more granular. In the first half of last century, the most obvious efficiencies were gained – setup lines, reduce movement, homogenize products, etc. Then in the second half of the century, we learned the economic benefits derived from processes like Six Sigma. Today, manufacturers still use the same principles, but technology has accelerated the processes. Through hardware and software breakthroughs on the plant floor, operators receive real time decision-making information that is much richer and provides the ability to fine tune controls and change lines quickly for greater operational efficiency.

Incremental improvements across lines and plants can result in large production efficiency gains. For example, power usage was long considered just a part of doing business. Big machines require a large amount of power and there’s no getting around it. But sensors that track power usage in individual machines can detect wear before an event occurs. Not only can businesses leverage algorithms that automatically reduce power usage, they can also use the sensor data to reduce downtime.

Recent cases of efficiency improvement

Enterprise level departments, like product lifecycle management, find trends and leverage their manufacturing facilities to create new product categories. When trends bubble up, the products people buy often come from the same manufacturers that exercise a little more thrift. Dishwasher pods are a good example. Just when you think the trend from powder to liquid dishwasher detergent was complete, P&G put the less glamorous powder into mini packages that dissolve and suddenly we are back where we started.

But you don’t have to be a major manufacturer to look at the big picture and improve efficiency. Producing more products isn’t going to help if the product that you produce isn’t in demand. Having the flexibility to produce the right products at the right times doesn’t always require a new line. Consider the production bakery that supplies Costco with Aussie Bites. Before Aussie Bites, the manufacturer produced baked goods, such as bread, and sales were expected to take a hit due to the gluten free trend. They repurposed their line and changed the recipe to make a new product category which could be considered a mini-healthy muffin, and now it’s available in stores throughout the country. A trend that could have hurt their business ended up creating a new opportunity. 
The ability to zoom into the finest details of what’s happening on the line has allowed the people who manage the machines to take a step back and look at the big picture. When manufacturers have a solid foundation, they are much more likely to create the future they envision. If you’d like to create a roadmap of where you’d like your facility to go, contact us today.