Creating a breakthrough business in the digital economy needs a fearless and inventive approach. It pays to be different and so businesses need to think about what they are doing to push the boundaries.
As operator of the world’s first shared smart factory, Technologies Added challenges conventional manufacturing models and applies a creative approach to operating a factory. Working with Rockwell Automation to integrate its manufacturing execution system (MES) into our production facilities resulted in cutting edge, Industry 4.0 innovation.
A smarter model
Based in the Netherlands, we opened our factory doors in 2017. What sets the facility apart is our collaborative model; we host production for multiple like-minded companies under one roof. This is a model that allows the companies we work with to benefit from a ready-to-use production model (the manufacturing equivalent of booking space on a subscription basis), shared resources and access to advanced technologies.
The model allows our customers to set up configurable production lines fast, enabling mass customisation – a flexible and highly scalable process for bringing products to market. The factory provides 3D modelling, smart robotics, digital twins and data-driven manufacturing, which our customers can use to experiment with new production models.
Two years into our journey, we now have 10 companies active in the facility in addition to our own production line), and a further 20 companies ordering from us on a regular basis. Based on the experience of the past two years, here are some key lessons we learned that may help other manufacturers seeking to adopt smarter capabilities.
Make flexibility your advantage
At Technologies Added, we use modular flexible assembly to allow multiple partners to operate simultaneously, with scope for rapid changes in what is produced. Both major companies and startups use this: the former to test new lines (overcoming issues with legacy production facilities) and the latter to scale up production of goods where they have already validated demand in the market.
Challenge the status quo
Innovation focused companies should always look for false assumptions and probe into whether a better way of operating exists. As an example, at Technologies Added we work with a manufacturer that was considering outsourcing a new production line to a low cost factory in a developing country. Following a cost analysis, the customer was surprised to discover that our smart factory actually worked out as the more cost efficient option, due to the ability to adopt a ‘by order’ approach to production.
Make economies of scale work in your favour
Digital transformation can pose challenges for a single organisation, such as meeting the expense and finding the technical expertise needed and then building the skills to maximise its effectiveness. To overcome this, we created a collaborative environment where smaller companies can develop capabilities that would otherwise be out of their reach. This includes not only the production technology within the facility, but also expert support in areas such as production design, engineering, logistics and security.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Businesses today have the benefit of far deeper insight into market demand, helping them to serve niches that previously would have been overlooked. We use a product innovation process that allows for prototypes to be industrialised within a short timeframe (often just two months) and with limited costs. Our customers can get products into the market quickly and assess whether a business opportunity really exists before scaling to full production.
Find partners to fill the gaps in your capabilities
No company can be an expert in everything; today’s breakout companies are built on the strength of their networks. This is why we work with Rockwell Automation to integrate its MES into our production facilities. Rockwell’s support helps us to use automation software to get to the cutting edge of innovation in the manufacturing industry and to pass the same benefits to the companies that use our facility.
As new technologies lower the traditionally high barriers to entry in manufacturing, businesses need to think differently. Digital transformation offers companies a means for tackling weak points in conventional business models that their competitors have been afraid to probe. Through our smart factory, companies have access to a partner that can help them test the limits of possibility. The success we have seen to date suggests that there is strength in numbers and drawing on the force of an open, collaborative network will triumph over closed approaches.
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