A manufacturing company converts raw materials into finished goods. Manufacturing is the business of making things in factories. None of these two Collins English Dictionary definitions summarise what manufacturing ought to be defined as in this day and age.
For some time I have viewed the best of manufacturing as an extensive ecosystem. Where more importantly, every player in the ecosystem brings value to how it best functions for their specific end users.
We can no longer treat manufacturing as an activity. Or as a series of activities lacking in effective synergy.
Yes, manufacturing comprises individual activities such as designing, procurement, milling, turning, grinding, welding, marketing, selling and more. But these individual activities have to more often be carried out as an interdependent entity of connected systems and processes. As that is when a robust ecosystem is formed where everybody benefits from the presence of true collaboration in the value chain.
‘Stepping into the past’
The discovery of steam in the first industrial revolution was a pivotal incident, not just for manufacturing. It was a singular incident that transformed how things were done on our little island.
With it came the term ‘manufacturing’, in the sense that people were trying to put things together, build machines, make components and parts which essentially drove industry.
Important changes that brought about the Industrial Revolution were the adoption of the factory system, invention of machines and the use of steam to power machines, looms and more.
The city where I live, Manchester, used to be the hub of industry.
‘And back… to the (present and) future’
So what’s happened since, apart from a lot? Far too much to summarise here. Items I will touch on however stem from Fictiv’s 2021 State of Manufacturing Report and ‘supply chain concerns stifling innovation.
Respondents, 45%, reported on rigid internal processes hampering their team’s ability to innovate. Whereas 97% of companies reported that supply chain management consumed a significant amount of employees’ time.
Other barriers flagged included cost overruns and difficulty sourcing fast, high-quality options to manufacture low-volume builds.
Every time we think of bringing a product to market we must start with the end in mind and work backwards to ensure we have every single process, and outcome included and in-mind.
Synergy from the start is where true added value lies. If you like, it’s almost similar to creating a recipe, getting feedback, following that recipe, delivering that recipe and checking in with what customers think of the recipe both during and after it has been consumed.
When we design something, there is a focus on what it is that’s needed to make a product. And then what order we need to assemble these things to make a product. The critical moment in this is including designing, procurement, milling, turning, grinding, welding, marketing, selling and all the other activities as one – at the same time.
All the processes must be running in synchronicity, and in an interconnected manner. Some of these processes must even run simultaneously. An example is starting to raise awareness on why your product is the best on the market and why people should buy your product.
If your product is made and other activities then start, it’s too late in the curve.
So, this is a must. As all these activities feed into the making of your product while giving the best chance of ensuring your product is successful. This is what results in value to you and to your customers.
Even though sales and post sales staff aren’t pressing the welding gun or pushing a factory button, they are ensuring the end customer gets the best from your product by being involved at the stage in which they ought to be involved.
‘Feedback is a gift’
If there is something that the customer wants during this redefined ‘manufacturing as an ecosystem’ process, they can feed it back to your design teams, who can make those changes.
The result is a better product with more longevity and value to the target audience.
The bottom line is, if we do not add value to the target audience, we will not be in business for very long. Which is why manufacturing is not a standalone activity.
All these players whom I’ve spoken of so far, they’re all capable of bringing extra value to the whole lifecycle of a product.
To me, that means manufacturing is now ‘an ecosystem of interdependent entities, where each entity brings value to the making of products’.
Therefore, we cannot look at manufacturing as a standalone activity where people put things together; we must look at it as an extensive ecosystem.
Once we change the way we look at manufacturing as an ecosystem, then we change the tone of the conversation, then change the conversation itself.
For example, at Equitus, we, as designers and engineers, we talk to salespeople, we talk to machinists, tool designers, millers, grinders, fabricators, marketeers, user experience researchers and experts in people behaviour.
The latter understand how the human mind works and therefore their feedback tells us how to design your product so that it’s naturally aligned with the way the human mind works as opposed to creating a product and forcing people to think in a certain way in order to use it.
When all these people truly come together – it’s possible – everyone adds value to the product and to the customer lifecycle as the customer journey starts before they’ve seen the product. This comes at various touch points, such as at a tradeshow, technical trade talks, through digital marketing, a conference, a company’s website.
So, if the first step in the journey itself is a bad step, then you cannot expect customers to continue on the journey. Which is why all these things and the value they bring to your product, are all part of the whole manufacturing system.
They all have a value addition to make, which is what will result in taking this product and making it a success. And a product becomes a success when customers see value with it.
And then it results in a positive reaction.
The customer says, ‘look, this is a great product, but the guys behind this product are fantastic too. They keep checking on us, they make sure we have everything we need’.
The word of mouth reaction then triggers more sales and more growth and more revenue.
And at the end, more prosperity for everyone involved. That’s the crux of the ecosystem.
About the author
Raam Shankar, Founder and CEO, Equitus Design Engineering and Innovations