(Image Credit: endomedion / 123RF Stock Photo)
Traditionally, Agile techniques have been the exclusive domain of software companies. Agile, which has been available to software manufacturers since the early 1990s, is a process that companies use to create new requirements and solutions for an application.
It breaks down product development into much smaller increments, minimizing the need for significant upfront design and planning. Thousands of companies have used it to create more efficient software solutions since its inception.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, hardware companies have come to appreciate the many benefits an agile manufacturing approach as well. The informal definition of agile manufacturing is an approach used by a company to manufacture its products. This includes the entire process, such as the training, tools, and processes a manufacturer must employ to get its products to the marketplace.
The main goal of agile manufacturing is to respond quickly to customer needs without jeopardizing quality or increasing costs.
Understanding the Four Key Elements of Agile Manufacturing
A successful agile manufacturing plan must incorporate all four of these elements:
- Corporate partners: Companies that implement agile manufacturing attempt to leverage business relationships with other companies whenever possible. The rationale is that cooperative and short-term projects can aid with entry or adjustment to new or evolving markets.
- Information technology (IT): The use of IT throughout the organization ensures that employees have the most recent information and can respond quickly to internal and external communication requests. This empowers them to make faster decisions regarding product design as well as ensures information distribution across several platforms.
- Knowledge culture: Adopting agile manufacturing means the company is willing to invest in employee training. This results in employee who can rapidly adapt to changing specifications throughout the company.
- Modular product design: This manufacturing process lends itself to modular products that allow for prompt variation and modification. Workers build modular products from a variety of pieces to ensure that this is possible. As an example, a worker incorporating modular product design would create several small pieces of the product that fit together rather than using a single type of material.
The Example of Wikispeed
Wikispeed, an auto manufacturer based in the United States, uses Agile manufacturing as a type of development technique. It just so happens that Wikispeed’s founder, Joe Justice, had been instrumental in Agile software development using Scrum since Agile first came on the scene. With this background, it was possible for Justice to implement the same techniques to manufacture a car. Wikispeed’s development process for cars dropped to just seven days. The result is a fully functioning automobile that consumes less gas than many other models.
While software and hardware development have obvious differences, the two share enough similarities for hardware manufacturers to seriously consider implementing Agile. Today’s winners in manufacturing aren’t necessarily the ones with the best product. It’s the company who can get new products to market the fastest, a goal that hardware manufacturers can reach easier by switching to the Agile process.