Flexible manufacturing: redefining the way we make. By Asif Moghal

The bedrock of any solid relationship, whether that is professional or personal, is communication; and the same is true in design and manufacturing. Each step along the process needs to be connected seamlessly. But as companies merge with others and develop or take on new products, doing business becomes far more complex. This puts additional strain on everything from the design to manufacturing process and increases the need for flexible, agile communication. Right now, the only way that manufacturers can address this need is to try and force their existing development cycles and systems to adapt and talk to each other and this simply doesn’t work.

Strong communication is the key to delivering agile manufacturing; something that is critical in the connected era. Here, I explore why manufacturers need to join the dots.

Designing products in a fast-paced world
Consumer demand for products is becoming increasingly unpredictable. They want better quality products delivered in far faster timeframes, all at much cheaper price points and with more personalisation than ever before. As a result, manufacturing devices in the connected era are becoming more and more of a challenge and, in response, manufacturers must innovate to bring agility back into their processes. This is something that rings true when looking at a report from The EEF, which revealed that 69 per cent of UK manufacturers think the UK ‘could do better,’ when it comes to supporting business innovation.

Breaking down the barriers to better communication
Today, every manufacturing business has a process to follow, right from the initial enquiry through to the invoicing stage. While many businesses believe they have a unique formula, the vast majority will follow a typical pattern; with each process made up of a number of discrete steps. To bring engineering agility back into the process, all of these steps must be connected seamlessly.

So how can manufacturers do this? They should start by using an innovative platform to capture all of the design requirements at the beginning of a project. This way manufacturers can break down manufacturing silos, becoming more collaborative and flexible with stakeholders. It also allows sufficient time to iron out any errors. This process is often left far too late, by which point the materials are already being cut.

By joining the dots first and designing products in a more agile environment, ultimately manufacturers across all sectors, can make their processes more efficient and reduce the order-to-production time significantly, boosting their overall productivity and innovation.

Polypipe: getting agile manufacturing right
Plastic pipe manufacturer, Polypipe, is one organisation benefitting from taking a more joined up approach. Aiming to offer its clients an end-to-end water management solution, it was important that knowledge and expertise could be readily shared across its three main divisions: Residential, Commercial and Civils and Infrastructure. Having both consistent file formats and a standardised approach to product development, project solutions and manufacturing helped the organisation to avoid duplication within the business as a whole and reduce waste.

Cutting down production processes just as Polypipe has done means that manufacturers will free up their time to design smarter products through smarter machines. This leads us into a truly exciting area: the industrial Internet of Things. Embedding sensors into machinery enables data to be captured as the machine is being operated, valuable information that can be fed directly back into product lifecycle management; improving the design of product and also making the manufacturing process more efficient in the long-run.

This allows manufacturers to focus the remaining resources on other areas of the business. This could be carving out more time to improve the customer experience – whether it be designing more personalised products or offering services beyond the shop floor – to not only better meet the needs of existing clients but also find new ones.

Planning for the future of making things
In today’s increasingly complex manufacturing landscape, investment in design agility must be made now if companies are to build connected products and services that meet the needs of consumers. The age of going from concept to design and production, and then to market and eventually product retirement, is over.

However, being ready for this future of making things doesn’t have to cost the earth or be overly complex. By harnessing new innovative platforms that connect the dots and make data more accessible, companies can broaden their manufacturing capabilities and introduce more flexible approaches to their business; disrupting traditional business models and creating new streams of revenues and cultivating brand loyalty.

Manufacturers must ensure they take advantage of tools that can help support agile processes, drive innovation and boost productivity. Changes in buying habits and t he emergence of new technologies means we are ushering in a new era of making things and manufacturers can’t afford to miss the boat.

Asif Moghal
Asif Moghal is manufacturing industry manager at Autodesk. Autodesk helps people imagine, design and create a better world. Everyone – from design professionals, engineers and architects to digital artists, students and hobbyists – uses Autodesk software to unlock their creativity and solve important challenges.

For more information visit: autodesk.co.uk or follow @Autodesk_UK