Even though the current economic climate is very tenuous at best the thought processes of small manufacturers must be turning toward optimizing and updating current manufacturing processes to get the best edge on larger competitors. As the economy improves small manufacturers should not only be cautious about getting through these slow times, but should have concepts of moving manual and out-of-date work stations toward lower costs and increased production. In order for any manufacturer to effectively compete in the global economy, all production work stations must be running at their optimum. These means that automation needs to be taken seriously in order to get the optimization that will return investments made in the business and create a profit so the company will remain viable.
It will be a hard reality for any manufacturer to face if the competition has a smooth running, well optimized business that produces high quality products for half or three-quarters of the cost that they can produce. We all know what that will mean. The manufacturer that is not optimized or automated could go out of business, quickly. In a world where the cost of manufacturing automation has come down to the point where it is comparable to the cost of traditional manufacturing machinery, it is foolish to try to run a manufacturing operation in the long term without manufacturing automation for any size business.
It is not an option to act like the economic forces do not exist that will keep the small manufacturers from getting a proper share of the world demand for goods and services when the recession wanes. The proper approach to making sure that they get their share of that demand is to plan for the optimization of manufacturing now. As the ability comes back for business to afford the execution of such plans, then new automation should start appearing on production lines where it can do the most good. It is only the dynamic, forward-thinking companies that will be able to garner a share of the market that will demand their goods. Technology has moved all manufacturing into a new phase of doing business. The old, traditional methods of manufacturing are quickly becoming disastrously ineffective for keeping a business alive.
Small manufacturers are very much less likely to be at the cutting edge of technology in communications and manufacturing automation than the larger corporations. Part of this is because traditionally the big guys have more resources for these kinds of things than that of the little guys. But in order to stay effective in the marketplaces of the world, the small manufacturers need to become more savvy about optimizing. Prices are going in the direction to help with the attainment of automation that will allow the small manufacturers to get a decent piece of the market share. Small manufacturers are also less like than large ones to have established networked connections with customers, suppliers, and support organizations.
Being in a trusted relationship with key suppliers and other entities can help a manufacturer establish a competitive advantage. Here again cost cannot be blamed for keeping networking away from the small operations. The pricing of such tools has been falling for some time now. So that is not an excuse. Because of this lack of connection there is little or no engagement with outside entities to be involved in continuous improvement efforts. Small manufacturers are also lacking in the establishment of measuring methods for determining the improvement in manufacturing automation.
Unfortunately there are some real barriers to the movement of small manufacturers from the world of traditional, low technology to the leading-edge world of high technology and manufacturing automation. In some cases the small company is locally-centered in which case the company sells to one or two large customers only. The marketplace that is important to them is local and they do not see the need for being effective in a global market. Companies with a small number of employees usually do not see need for being effective globally because they have not had a great demand for their products overseas. These companies do not have the innate drive to push their production levels up using automation. There has never been a high demand for their products, so they work at a slow and steady pace, delivering products to their few traditional customers. Due to the lack of desire to push production rates higher with automation, the smaller businesses also lack the drive for operational changes. It is just the old adage repeated, "If something is not broke, don't fix it".
Unfamiliarity with changes that are brought by manufacturing automation is not something that small businesses would welcome. Making these types of changes pushes the employees out of their comfort zone. Re-training is required. The employees need to be committed to such sweeping changes for them to have a hope in hell of working. Since small manufacturers have a small number of employers compared to larger companies, it is easy for them the have a drain of expertise in any given area, including automation or technology.
The traditional search for small manufacturing manager has been focused on getting the ones that have production backgrounds or even specific product backgrounds. In the future the group of leaders that will be effective in managing the small manufacturing operations will have knowledge of setting up relationships with entities outside the company, for the establishment of partner networks which will foster growth in the global economy. There will be a greater collaboration between companies globally, so there will be a need for manufacturers, small and large, to be able to meet the demands of a much larger marketplace using manufacturing automation.
Customer focus, whether local or overseas, will be required more than it is now. Those businesses that do not measure the success of product launches, whether products are accepted by the market, and the value that customers place on the products that they produce will have a difficult time remaining viable. Manufacturing automation and measurement of product statistics go hand-in-hand. Any manufacturing company must remain viable by continuing to appreciate customers opinions about their products, then responding to those opinions. Automation can help a business make a quick response to what the customers want in products.