Agile manufacturing: the leadership viewpoint

Main visual : Agile manufacturing: the leadership viewpoint

The manufacturing industry’s history is an impressive one. It’s continued to evolve innovatively, and in the process, sculpted fresh customer expectations, and overcome the hurdles preventing improvements from being achieved.

Nowadays, we spend a lot of time talking about industry 4.0 but if we take a moment to examine Industry 3.0, it’s quickly apparent that the foray into mass production using automation was a real milestone for the industry we have before us today.

However, in the true spirit of manufacturing, the wheel of industrial innovation has continued to spin forward. Mass production has become the norm, and now manufacturing businesses are pushing themselves to incorporate customisation into the mass production mix.

Customers want products tailored to their needs, and they want to receive them in mere hours or days, as opposed to months. It’s businesses like Amazon with same-day delivery that have proven that fast distribution services can be achieved – and now customers expect the same immediacy from manufacturing businesses, despite expectations for personalisation.

Of course, this calls for one overarching principle: agility.

Not only is transitioning towards a more agile way of working a mind shift change, but in manufacturing, agility has to be built into the system. This is where SAP’s Digital Supply Chain technologies come in.

So, in this blog I’m going to outline what’s currently stopping manufacturing businesses from becoming more agile, and what can help these businesses get past those difficulties.

A gear-change in manufacturing systems

Legacy systems are a hurdle most established manufacturing businesses will need to surmount on their path to greater agility. While new technology provides the capabilities to be agile, it often has to play bedfellow to slower, sometimes incompatible legacy systems, which can hinder those agile benefits from coming to fruition.

For example, in aerospace, engines are one of the most complex products. Lead times can easily be a year or more, during which specifications can change. Each change requires new data and documentation – often right across the supply chain – with potentially significant product safety implications if any documentation is not correctly modified at any point. In a non-digital environment, this puts heavy demands on management. It is also slow and expensive.

Right now, the industry is moving towards a more integrated approach, in which a design change at the top of the process can go through the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and change all the necessary parts of the process accordingly, including quotation, pricing and inventory checks. It means the business is in a much better position to meet the customers’ expectations surrounding the product as well as the promised deadline, because changes have been accounted for from the offset.

To help manufacturers edge towards this beneficial change, Fujitsu and SAP have been implementing what we call the Core Clean approach. It enables agile technology to be easily added to the core – let’s say a cloud platform – without making major changes to core business logics.

We know our customers are facing demands for dynamic changes in their businesses to compete in the market, a fact that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a lot of these cases, our customers need to make more than just incremental changes, they need drastic ones. Fujitsu is supporting these drastic digital transformations with the Digital Core Clean approach. With this approach we develop applications on top of the SAP Cloud Platform which keeps the ERP processes clean.

This approach solves the existing “add-on” problems caused by advanced business application programming (ABAP) add-on models, which include problems, such as high maintenance costs and decreased flexibility.

With Core Clean Approach, valuable functionality can be added, and the core can be kept clean at the same time.

Gaining momentum behind agile changes

It’s important business leaders share their vision with employees while regular changes to their manufacturing systems take place. It’s truly vital that the benefits of catching up on the latest agile technology are emphasised, so employees remain supportive and understand why these changes are happening.

Resources are another area of focus that leaders must monitor closely, especially when the necessary skills for agile technology may be scarce within the business. When establishing timelines for implementing manufacturing technologies to enable agility, it’s important to consider where these resources and skills will come from, particularly when it’s a small talent pool of individuals with this expertise and high demand. This is where consultants like Fujitsu can fill that gap.

Future of manufacturing

Someone once said to me that once you cross the Amazon River you can’t come back, and that sentiment rings true when it comes to becoming agile in manufacturing. It’s a bit like once you begin using Amazon services – once you get a taste for same-day delivery, it’s unlikely you’ll stop using them.

The industry itself is changing dramatically and it's important for manufacturers to target investment smartly to build transparent and responsive operations. As more and more customers experience tailored products delivered at pace, it will become less possible for manufacturers to turn back to old ways. And for those who don’t become more agile, I think it’s going to be very hard to stay in the market at all.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate agility into your culture and system, Fujitsu can offer guidance gained from years of digital transformation – tailored to your business’ individual manufacturing needs. You can find out more about how we can help you get started here.