The Basics of Agile Manufacturing


So, let’s say you’ve implemented lean manufacturing principles, have achieved a certain level of success, and are now ready to make your manufacturing business even stronger. What’s the next step? Is there a next step after lean? The answer is simply: yes.

Agile manufacturing is a manufacturer’s answer when they’re ready to level up in production. The process, while similar to lean, calls for increased adaptability and efficiency to more quickly meet customer demands. In agile manufacturing, manufacturers use highly integrated technology and communication systems to develop excellent quality products that are made quickly and cost-effectively. The idea is to impress customers with both production speed and product quality.

There are four pillars of agile manufacturing. They are:

  • Modular Product Design – allows for fast and easy variation
  • Information Technology – enables cross-departmental communication and fast response to orders
  • Corporate Partners – forms alliances with corporate partners  to improve time-to-market for certain products
  • Knowledge Culture – employee training helps support rapid and ongoing change throughout the company

Each of these four pillars serves to improve the end product as well as to ensure that the customer is completely satisfied.

If you haven’t yet noticed, agile manufacturing is all about the customer. As any seasoned business pro will tell you, what customers ultimately want is to have a choice of high quality products that will give them instant gratification. And agile manufacturing addresses each of these concerns. Modular product design provides the choice, agile processes produce the quality, and information technology enables lightning fast production.

Also driving this model of manufacturing is the need to stay competitive in an ever-changing market. The more agile the manufacturing team is, the easier it’ll be for them to beat competitors to the punchline.

How is it Different From Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is thought to be a precursor to agile manufacturing. The core of lean is to eliminate waste and reduce production costs to keep product prices flexible. On the other hand, agile manufacturing encompasses all the principles of lean while also making speed and automation a priority. Agile enables manufacturers to adjust their production process in order to immediately capitalize on sales.

Agile also relies on fewer people than lean. The expectation is that a few high quality employees will be self-sufficient enough to know what to do when adapting to production needs. Lean manufacturing is a bit of the opposite–it optimizes its people and their skills to fall in line with lean principles.

Essentially, what you have with agile manufacturing is a smaller team working at or beyond the pace and standard of a traditional lean manufacturing operation.

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