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Agile Manufacturing – A Guide

There are a lot of buzz words surrounding manufacturing today Lean Manufacturing, Agile Manufacturing, and Just In Time Manufacturing being some of the common ones today. Each of these methods of manufacturing have various points they emphasize and with them bring a variety of potential changes to your manufacturing process. In this article we cover what agile manufacturing is, things that you must consider with agile manufacturing, and why consider agile manufacturing.

What Agile Manufacturing Is

Agile manufacturing places emphasis on being able to adapt quickly to customer needs and market changes while controlling costs and quality. Agile is often considered the next step in Lean Manufacturing as it often requires lean principals to be able to effectively implement; principals like manufacturing in small batches, fast changeover between products, and continuous improvement. Lean Manufacturing primarily focuses on eliminating waste that is not critical to the manufacturing of a product where Agile extends this idea to also focus on quick response to customer and market needs.

Why Consider Agile Manufacturing

Agile manufacturing can be critical to manufacturers who deal with product lines that experience significant shifts in demand on a regular basis. It also allows you to be able to quickly respond to customer demand for a new product that you may not have originally sensed any need for. Essentially if your product needs change rapidly, you can out compete based on the availability of products compared to the competition, or being able to customize a product to your customer’s desires will help you be competitive agile can be a great solution to consider.

How Agile Differs From Lean Manufacturing

While Agile shares similarities to Lean manufacturing there are unique aspects of Agile Manufacturing.

Lean focuses primarily on cost reduction through inventory reduction, production based on product demand, and having full awareness of how facilities, materials, and time are being used.  Lean is often though not always implemented when variations of a product are low and demand is consistent.

Agile focuses more on speed of delivery of a product, ability to adjust production rapidly, and ability to adapt a product to customers’ demands rapidly. Agile is often though not always used when variability is high and volume is low.

What Agile Requires

With a focus on speed Agile manufacturing requires a facility that allows for quick changes and allows for integrated feedback to ensure products are being made the way your customer wants. Some of the key areas that have to be considered if you are planning on implementing agile manufacturing include

  • Modular Product Design -Modular Products involve breaking down a complete product into sub units that can be utilized for a variety of end product configurations. Modular product design allows you to have a variety of sub components that are used in common end products and allows for rapid completion of the end product by pulling the sub components and adding any non finished sub components into production at a moments notice.  Modular design will also enable reduction of inventory by being able to reuse base configurations for a variety of products.
  • Information Technology – To be able to provide exactly what customers want in a fast manner dissemination of information is critical in being able to succeed at Agile Manufacturing. This requires IT information systems that quickly show what customers want, how much they want in the near future, any issues in obtaining what they want (which modules for the part are in stock which may be needed ect.),  and additional related information.
  • Supplier Partnerships – Due to focusing on rapid changes in product, Agile manufacturers often have unique relationships with suppliers who can require the Supplier to be flexible in what they provide the manufacturer and the speed at which they meet the agile manufacturer’s needs.
  • Employee Learning – To be able to accommodate rapid changes in manufacturing and respond rapidly Agile Manufacturers often make significant investments in employee training so they can best be able to accommodate the rapid changes in production that can be required in Agile manufacturing

Combining Lean and Agile Manufacturing

With overlap between requirements in Lean and Agile Manufacturing operations, manufacturers may often consider implementing both lean and agile principals.  The unique challenge to this can be properly reducing costs while still ensuring the ability to rapidly adjust manufacturing processes. To achieve this balance, it can often be necessary to consider modular design with slightly more inventory than would be involved if a strict Lean methodology is being pursued. In addition, a variety of other factors will be important you can learn more about how the two can be incorporated in this research study, which highlights how decoupling of the supply chain can help to implement a lean and agile approach in a single manufacturing process.

Ultimately Agile provides opportunities for rapid response to a customer’s needs in a fast and efficient way.  By implementing Agile manufacturing, you can potentially serve a customer better and faster with exactly what they want.  Depending on your manufacturing context this can be a great solution.

Additional Agile Manufacturing and Lean Manufacturing Resources

Agile Manufacturing

Lean vs Agile Manufacturing SlideShare

Lean Manufacturing

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