by David Estrakh, Senior Vice President at Express Trade Capital
Even though your manufacturing facility is up and running, that doesn’t mean you can forget about it and turn your attention to other aspects of your business. Manufacturing requires constant attention to ensure that costs remain low and quality and productivity stay high.
Here are a few ideas for keeping your operation running smoothly:
Manage the Product Lifecycle.
You may have been lucky enough to be first to market, but that doesn’t mean the competition will bow out gracefully. Competitors are always probing for your product’s weaknesses or unfilled customer needs. Even a patent may not protect you from competition, since there’s usually more than one way to accomplish a task or meet a goal.
You must put your product on a continuous upgrade cycle, but there’s more to it than just an annual update. To do it right, you need to understand how customers use your product; what their appetite for upgrading is; and their budget cycles. You also need to understand your competitors’ new product introduction cycle, and to consider it in your plans.
There’s more to bringing a new iteration to market than just a press release when you’re in manufacturing. You need to understand your “on-hand” and committed inventory position, too — so you don’t get stuck with obsolete parts that you should discard. Plan your inventory carefully to phase in new products at the right time. Don’t forget to allow time for ordering new tooling or training your operators on new procedures.
Watch for Quality.
It’s easy to become complacent in manufacturing as you work on the same or similar products every day. Beware — that’s when quality issues creep in. You must stay vigilant.
Now is the time to institute a supplier performance rating system. You can work with key suppliers to ensure they know what you need and the best way to satisfy your quality requirements. Communicating and collaborating with suppliers on product design is the best way to ensure that quality and costs stay in line with expectations.
You might also want to consider implementing quality management software at this point. There are excellent cloud-based software applications, but unless you’re in a highly regulated industry, you can do everything you need manually if you’re diligent.
Put together processes for corrective action/preventive action (CAPA) handling, returns management and inspection reports. Implement serial or lot tracking if your product could conceivably ever be recalled. Track-and-trace capability will save you time and money in the long run if the unthinkable happens.
Compliance Is Critical.
Not every industry is as highly regulated as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, or food and beverage; but every industry must comply with multiple regulations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Fortunately, OSHA provides excellent training and information about sound workplace practices — even in hazardous environments.
A variety of government entities have regulations that affect manufacturers: The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates shipping and product handling requirements, especially for hazardous materials, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees sustainability and green processes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates medical devices under 21 CFR part 11 of the Federal Register. Food and beverage manufacturing may be regulated by the FDA or the Department of Agriculture. The automotive industry must answer to the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) as well as to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that typically require Materials Management Operations Guideline/Logistics Evaluation (MMOG/LE) compliance, an industry standard for suppliers.
Continuous improvement is the name of the game in manufacturing. Most manufacturers that hope to remain competitive adopt lean manufacturing, Six Sigma or another process improvement and control system. These systems help you ensure that your process creates consistent quality at a consistent rate. They focus on incremental improvements that help keep customers happy and costs and waste low.
Manufacturing can be consuming: There is always an incremental improvement to be made. When you love manufacturing, you can always find a way to streamline a process, reduce inventory, and add a feature or service that delights your customer. If you don’t love manufacturing, or if parts of your process require specialized skills or equipment, you may find that it is helpful to outsource those aspects of the business. It is much more cost effective to outsource tooling creation, or processes you only do occasionally, than it is to buy the necessary equipment and expertise. You may also choose to outsource business processes that don’t ignite your passion, such as procurement or accounts receivable.
Manufacturing is an exciting industry. There is rarely a dull moment, and always something new or different happening. Keep your eye on these five areas to ensure that your manufacturing operation continues to run smoothly.
David Estrakh serves as Senior Vice President at Express Trade Capital. Estrakh has an extensive background in international commerce and trade, specializing in business development and complex commercial transactions.