Previously, manufacturing operations centred around the production of a single product or set of products. All investment and development activity, understandably, focused on process improvement in order to create more of these products in less time and at a lower cost. As the laws of diminishing marginal returns set in, the manufacturer able to remain profitable at the lowest threshold would survive and be able to reinvest, creating a virtuous feedback loop for greater productivity and profit.
But now, churning out more and more units is not enough. Today’s manufacturers need to be more in tune with what the market wants, which, as we’ve seen recently, can change rapidly and drastically. Failure to adapt – for example by continuing to produce after demand has dissipated or wavering on upscaling production in response to a new surge in demand – leaves the manufacturer open to significant costs and missed opportunities.
Adaptability in manufacturing means introducing more flexible and fluid structures to react to changing circumstances and market conditions. The focus is less on product output and more on combining a diverse set of skills and capabilities from across the business to meet a certain end-goal. In essence, adopting a project-oriented mindset.
Becoming a project-based manufacturer requires building agility into operations across the production cycle. This traverses multiple areas, including flexible and easily reconfigurable machinery, fluid team structures and processes to access skills on a needs basis, and the adaptability to plug into partners and supply chain networks for information-sharing.