Fast, Mobile and Adaptive for Instant Gratification


This device built by MIT researchers can be reconfigured to manufacture several different types of pharmaceuticals. Photo courtesy MIT.

We live increasingly in an age of instant gratification. New technologies such as 3D printing, see-now, buy now and on-line product upgrades all mean we can get the very latest without waiting. The question is, how do you design and plan for products made on-demand, on-site, in real-time? What does the new manufacturing company and its supply chain look like?

The changes that new technologies are bringing to production industries are more profound than may first meet the eye. Sure, there is new equipment to buy, but that’s the tip of the iceberg.

To transform into a company delivering instant gratification, manufacturers will need to re-think how they operate.

Speed: To achieve instant gratification for customers, internal processes may need to actually happen sooner, creating longer internal cycles. Burberry is a great example of how the timing changes. In their first “see-now, buy-now¬† show” this fall, designers allowed consumers to buy the products as they saw them on models on the runway. Turns out that meant they needed to begin the design process in February, not in May as they traditionally did, according to Business of Fashion. The concept worked for them, garnering an increase in sales. Companies such as Gerber Technologies have created new products to support this new model.

Mobility: Companies must be truly ready for mobility – and not just for monitoring. The production facilities themselves may be mobile and/or remote in this new approach. 3D printers for discrete products are so common they have Top 10 reviews now. 3D printing has moved well beyond plastics. These can now handle metals, multiple materials and even printed circuits and biological materials. There are also processing units encapsulated in a trailer for pharmaceuticals and process products mean production can be where the demand is. MIT has developed the very small unit in the photo to process different drugs on-demand and on-site. Question is, are you prepared to track and manage the people, materials (both direct and indirect), tooling, and production and compliance information to ensure they are ready for that production run?

Adaptation: The key to instant gratification will be listening to the market to be ready and responsive. It will be no small feat to have the materials, personnel, and information ready not only for products that have been made before, but to create something new and shape what is trending. In theory, creating one-offs to match what a customer wants quickly and easily is the realm of Industry 4.0. Autonomous products and production processes communicating with each other about what they need.

However, the IoT, sensors, and all of the hardware are not the difficult nor the first element to consider in this scenario. Companies must also have customer order, industry-wide, and website buyer data and put them into big data analytics to see trends. The prerequisite for that is a current version of all the main enterprise software in use today: ERP, SCM, PLM, MES. By current, I mean truly capable of handling this uncharted variety and explosion of data. Creating something centralized from the inherently decentralized reality of instant gratification production is not likely to work.

There is more that will change. Perhaps most important will be the mindsets. What we have done in the past will not necessarily be the right thing to do now and in the future. Keeping an open mind, truly accepting outside-the-box ideas and experimenting will be important.

Achieving instant gratification for customers may not feel instantly gratifying to the operations delivering that. In fact, it may take some trial and error as well as long hours of strategic thinking to get outside the box of our previous history.

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