Manufacturing operations strive to increase demand fulfillment and to reduce costs. But, too often these objectives seem mutually exclusive in practice. In fact, a 10-year study by Accenture of nearly 250 businesses across industries and sectors found that only 11% were meeting both goals.
So what are the 11% doing differently? Interestingly, the study found that operational flexibility was the common thread binding these companies together. What’s more, they were able to achieve flexibility, reduce costs, and increase demand by adhering to three key principles of operations.
3 pillars of operational flexibility
1) Keep it simple.
It can be difficult to keep up with the growing market demand for product customization while maintaining low overhead costs. But the answer is not fewer SKUs — in fact, quite the opposite. Successful manufacturers have increased product variants while reducing the number of components in each SKU, simplifying production.
A prime example of this is Toyota, which is transitioning from 100 different platform variants to five standard platforms across all its models. The brand will maintain design variation in accompanying components and interior choices. Toyota expects this will enhance the customer driving experience while reducing factory costs by 40% and manpower by about 20%.
2) Embrace digitization.
The supply chain is a series of steps toward getting the product in the hands of the end user. Digitization can break down barriers between steps so the supply chain becomes one integrated process. By offering faster responsiveness through digitalization, businesses can better meet consumer demand in timely manner.
Additionally, digitization can help reduce costs associated with production. An example of this is the use of 3-D printing. Traditional manufacturing processes for building a part are subtractive, creating a lot of scrap and wasted material as a byproduct. Not so with 3-D printing, an additive process using the minimum material necessary to fabricate a part. Less wasted material equals less wasted cost.
3) Develop multi-skilled labor.
Investing in a workforce that can adjust and handle multiple duties is an important aspect of operational flexibility. By cross-training employees, manufacturers are better able to optimize time and effort.
Honda’s ARC line, which trains line members across multiple tasks, offers a prime example. Not only are employees more capable of assessing and solving problems, Honda has been able to improve work efficiency by 10%.
With increasing consumer demands comes an increasing need for electronics manufacturers to adapt and change with the times. And there will always be unexpected variables and market fluctuations that require operational agility. But by being faster, more flexible, and cheaper, businesses can continue to increase demand fulfillment while effectively managing costs.