Trending: Manufacturing Flexibility for Efficiency and Market Response

We know much more about manufacturing than when Ford first rolled Model-T’s off of the line. As manufacturers account for more variables within the production process, they have the opportunity to beat competitors by capitalizing on their inefficiencies.

Reduce Variation and Increase Flow

Lean practitioners believe that waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the process. Of course, there is truth in both of these assessments, which is why both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies have been so successful in improving overall business performance in a variety of fields. In fact, these two disciplines have proven to be especially successful when working in tandem – hence the creation of Lean Six Sigma. The chart below represents the eight waste areas identified by this application.


Manufacturers should have processes and plans that account for a reasonable spread of variables. For example, preventative maintenance is a step in the right direction, but the manufacturers that do predictive analysis of these variables and more are winning the race.

An Additional Variable

Identifying waste is the first step towards improving operational efficiency, but for many manufacturers, the more challenging task is in finding solutions that provide the highest return on investment and implementing those solutions efficiently. New plants have a clear advantage because manufacturers can use their prior knowledge and build on a clean slate. Working within operational plants increases the complexity and cost of implementations. Due to the perceived risks, many manufacturers wait until a known risk’s consequences are imminent. Unfortunately, there is a major flaw in managing operations when decisions aren’t made until they are forced. We all know what doing too little too late means. The timing of implementing solutions is critical to a manufacturer’s success, and unfortunately, we’ve seen the impact on operations.

Planning for the Future

Manufacturing is a technology based business and technologies are improving at a breakneck pace. Recent innovations have allowed established tools, to explore variables with incredible depth and accuracy throughout the manufacturing process. Those who’ve continued to improve and innovate are realizing their returns and growing.

According to ThomasNet’s annual Industry Market Barometer® survey of North American manufacturing shows an upward trajectory, year after year, as they continue to lead the U. S. economy forward. These companies are growing, hiring, adding new lines of products or services, and investing for more growth to come. More than half (58 percent) grew in 2013, and 63 percent expect to grow by the end of 2014.

Positive indicators are everywhere. Manufacturers are getting more business from their existing markets, and their average account values are rising. Nearly eight out of ten (76 percent) are now selling overseas, and 33 percent of them expect this to rise, too. In anticipation of what’s ahead, they’re increasing their production capacity, optimizing their manufacturing operations, and upgrading their facilities.