What is Agile Manufacturing?

micro-assembly-1534573_960_720Have you heard of agile manufacturing? This term refers to a methodology in the manufacturing industry that emphasizes the importance of responding to a customer or client’s needs in a timely manner, as well as making changes to adapt to the market.

To better understand agile manufacturing, just look at the term “agile.” Merriam-Webster defines “agile” as “having a quick resourceful and adaptable character,” which sums up the term nicely. With agile manufacturing, manufacturing companies must change and adapt to various factors in the market.

Agile manufacturing embraces the use of technology and tools that allow marketers, designers and engineers to share data on production capacities and problems in the manufacturing process, specifically where problems can lead to other and more serious issues downstream. It’s often discussed in conjunction with quality control issues, as agile manufacturing identifies problems such as these in the early stages before they snowball into larger problems.

Some people assume that agile manufacturing and lean manufacturing are the same concepts. While similar, agile manufacturing can best be described as a step in the process of lean manufacturing. Wikipedia explains by saying the difference between them is the equivalent of a “thin person and an athletic person.” Lean manufacturing is the thin person, whereas agile manufacturing is the athletic person. Lean manufacturing is a methodology for eliminating waste within the manufacturing system through the use of many individual steps. Agile manufacturing, as explained above, is a methodology that emphasizes fast responses to market changes.

Of course, agile manufacturing can include the concept of lean manufacturing, though it goes one step further by placing an emphasis on responding to customer’s needs and market changes in a more timely manner. As most manufacturing companies already know, changes can occur quickly in this industry. Failure to adapt to these changes can place a company at a serious disadvantage to its competitors.

So, what benefits (if any) does agile manufacturing offer? Well, there’s a reason why so many manufacturing companies are adopting it: it focuses on the customer’s needs while also placing importance on quality control. Manufacturing companies in competitive markets use agile processes to differentiate themselves and achieve a higher level of customer satisfaction.

Agile isn’t used strictly in the manufacturing industry, however; the methodology is applied to many other industries, including software development.