Agile and lean manufacturing: How e-commerce can support manufacturers as they strive to reduce waste

LEAN manufacturing, and the lean concept in general, aims to provide more value for customers with fewer resources; effectively eliminating waste.

The process of reducing waste covers a wide range manufacturing activity. It looks at the movement of raw products and finished goods in a bid to reduce unnecessary transportation. It identifies whether stock material or component levels can be reduced; or whether the manufacturer is producing or processing more than required. It considers how to reduce quality defects; as well as the waiting time of operators and machines.

While all these processes seem inward looking, agile manufacturing on the other hand primarily addresses customer expectations and how businesses can rapidly respond to their requirements. recognise the following as four key pillars of agile manufacturing:

  • Fast and easy variation through modular product design
  • Fast data dissemination through technology and automation
  • Effective corporate partner alliances to improve time to market
  • Forward-thinking knowledge culture to encourage new ways of working amongst employees

Adopting these key agile features can enable businesses to meet customer requirements and meet ever-increasing expectations.

By bringing lean and agile manufacturing processes and values together organisations can work collectively to drive efficiency and reputability within a business; boosting productivity, reducing costs, generating faster responses and improving customer service. In a manufacturing context, lean is often viewed as the precursor to agile; effectively allowing businesses to respond immediately to demands.

The two principles can be applied beyond the production processes to replicate this same efficiency throughout the whole business. By using your webstore to its full potential, you can support your commercial department to become just as lean and agile.

Your digital channels, like your e-commerce platform, is easily updated with product and pricing updates and also offers customers a platform to communicate their needs without having to wait for a direct line of communication with a member of the sales team. Meanwhile sales representatives can focus on more proactive, value-adding activities rather than time-consuming administration tasks.

Advanced e-commerce solutions such as Sana have built-in configurators to enable online orders for customised products; speeding up the process for the customer and reducing demand on sales staff. These additional features are important considerations in the fast-paced manufacturing industry and can help to manage short product life cycles and long specifications.

Complex products can be simplified further by adopting one of the agile pillars; technology and automation for data dissemination. By taking product and pricing information directly from your ERP, you can reduce manual processes prone to human error. If the connection between your webstore and ERP allows this data exchange in real-time, your customers will only see an accurate iteration of your products. In addition, any orders processed through your webstore can be immediately available and processed through your ERP ready for shipping; reducing time to market.

Rapidly-evolving technology, rising customer expectations and the increasing need for speed are not the only current trends affecting manufacturing. According to our recent survey of over 300 manufacturing companies worldwide, 70% found that competitive pressures were the main driving force behind the optimisation of their IT infrastructure. As the market becomes more saturated and competition increases, organisations need to adopt lean and agile principles to ultimately stay ahead of the competition.

By Sana Commerce