The world of manufacturing has seen its ups and downs, and many believe that resurgence is on the horizon thanks to the shift to technology; where the factories of the future will help reshape the way we previously viewed manufacturing and supply chains, and it starts with their ability to improve customization.
This declaration is not made lightly as research now gives credence to the emergence of customization-oriented production. Manufacturers are now becoming less concerned with productivity and efficiency and more focused on agility and responsiveness. A recent study by SCM World in cooperation with MESA international showed that 70% of top operation and supply chain executives are currently working toward designing the factory of the future.
Forcing this shift is the dramatic increase in the demand for complexity from consumers. Retailers are under constant pressure to keep their customers happy, and manufacturers are further pressured to deliver more customized packages, formulations, and configurations for all sorts of products. One of the pioneers of this practice is sports apparel giant Nike, whose NIKEiD initiative lets customers personalize their favorite shoes and have them shipped direct.
Due to this increased demand for customizations, manufacturers are able to pounce on the new opportunities; which is enhancing their rate of investment, in areas such as advanced robotics, e-commerce, additive manufacturing and advanced digital stimulation of manufacturing processes. All of which has led to multi level customization and shortened production runs.
The movement to mass customization will also prove critical to the reliance on digital supply chains, which will enable “ship” final configuration elements to happen very late in the production process. Consumer electronic devices are becoming very adept at this process, where consumers are now able to change product features such as the aesthetic design of their smart phone or even add software or app enhancements to a product platform well after all physical manufacturing has finished.
Consumers’ increasing power to demand personalized products and the evolution of technological advancements will continue to change the face of manufacturing. For many companies this will require placing factories closer to end markets even if this means producing in high labor cost locations, and the continue development of digitized supply chains. Digital technologies in particular promise economically viable mass customization. As the learning curve steepens it seems certain that the factory of the future will redefine what manufacturing means to the world economy.