The world of manufacturing is being flipped on its head. It wasn’t long ago when factories followed a tried and true formula: make a lot of stuff all at once and pocket the rewards of low unit costs. The more you made, the lower your unit costs dropped. For the buyer of your products – your end customers – they simply got used to taking whatever you were making.
Enter the Amazon effect. Today, your customers – whether they’re consumers or businesses – are demanding more. They want products and parts that are personalized to their needs, and delivered perfectly, just when they need them.
Manufacturers are responding in droves. Nike, for example, is now designing made-to-fit shoes online, and Levi’s plans to introduce jeans that are customized to your specifications while you wait in the store.
To trend toward personalization is rippling through factories and supply chains worldwide. They are producing shorter runs, carrying less stock, and mobilizing innovative technologies to do the heavy lifting of customization and personalization. Instead of the old linear model of designing new products then throwing them over the wall for supply chain planners to deal with, manufacturers are embracing collaborative models that bring their suppliers into the design process upfront to build unique products that satisfy demand and that suppliers can build and scale affordably.
Of course this flexible new way of manufacturing also adds complexity. This is where new technologies can be a game changer. On the factory floor, for example, augmented reality (AR) systems are helping manufacturers envision how to optimally reconfigure equipment and production lines. And when the pandemic hit, many companies used technology to automate manual or paper-based processes in order to conform to social distancing requirements on the factory floor.
To fill in the gaps, manufacturers have turned to robots and “cobots” (collaborative robots) for help. These tools are increasingly part of the arsenal of the most agile and innovative producers. Other emerging technologies are helping manufacturers shave costs. For example, many companies are using 3-D printing to help replace outdated spare parts that would be prohibitive to rebuild by hand.
Deploying innovative techniques like these are what manufacturers need to tackle the challenges of personalization, as well as unexpected supply disruptions, while protecting margins.
There are a range of ways for manufacturers to stay agile and continuously innovate the way they make products. You can innovate in your product design process with better collaboration and by better integrating customer feedback; in your supply chain ecosystem by gaining better visibility into potential supply constraints or changes in material costs; and on your shop floor with technologies that will help produce personalized products that best fit your customers’ needs.
Often these innovations can be just simple changes and leverage things you already have on hand. Take scrap materials. It’s a big issue for manufacturers and a huge cost burn. But new software is helping manufacturers efficiently cut sheet metal to exacting dimensions and weights with the least amount of scrap.
Increasingly manufacturers are setting their sights on the cloud to power innovation. Many are using solutions like Oracle Manufacturing Cloud to deploy advanced technologies, such as IoT and other solutions, on a unified platform for innovation. For Titan International, a global manufacturer of heavy-duty wheels and tires, the move to the cloud has paid off in a big way. “Oracle Cloud applications give us access to constant innovation and enable us to benefit from emerging technology, such as IoT, to gain an advantage over the market,” the company’s director of IT said. Among other benefits, the continuous flow of data helps the machine-learning algorithms process and predict when a machine needs maintenance—before it goes down.
Unlocking continuous innovation will be key to driving growth for manufacturers as the global economy continues to rebound from the pandemic. That became clear in the early stages of the crisis, when companies rapidly overhauled their factories and redeployed resources to ramp up supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. And it’s crucial for outpacing the competition in the years ahead.
With a single platform for innovation, manufacturing organizations can better understand what customers want and then design, product, and deliver products to market more quickly. This enables the entire value chain to contribute to a great customer experience and transform manufacturing operations at every level.
Learn more about how you can unlock continuous innovation to turn your manufacturing organizations into a growth engine. And stay tuned to this blog series as we dig deeper into the benefits of innovation and how your organization can get started.
Terri Hiskey is the vice president of SCM and manufacturing product marketing for Oracle, leading the strategic development and execution of supply chain and manufacturing-focused content, programs, and assets. She came to Oracle from Epicor, a global provider of ERP solutions for small and midsize manufacturers and distributors, where she led the manufacturing product marketing team. Previous to that, Terri spent nearly a decade leading various SCM product marketing efforts to promote Oracle’s product lifecycle management, manufacturing, maintenance, and order management solutions. Terri has more than twenty years of technology marketing experience focused primarily on helping customers efficiently design, build, and service innovative products for the right markets at the right time. Based in Austin, Texas, she holds a BA from The George Washington University and an MA from Suffolk University.