When you sit down with your team to plan how to manufacture your new product, you probably start with a debate over manufacturing your product in Asia, Mexico, or here in the U.S. Maybe your company already has products on the market and a proven manufacturing partner, but you’re ready to consider alternatives. As you work out your options, you should consider an approach that is growing in popularity: small-scale manufacturing.
The growth of e-commerce, increase of trade tensions with China, and advances in manufacturing were already leading companies to rethink their manufacturing strategies. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent growth in online shopping, and supply chain disruptions sent us all back to the drawing board. What made sense 5 or 10 years ago may no longer be working for your company. You’re not alone.
Some are looking at learning how to work more closely with resources in China to get better results — others are considering the advantages of nearshoring in Mexico. There are now a wide variety of options across all regions to look at smaller-scale manufacturing options.
In this article. We will cover what small-scale manufacturing is, explain its advantages, share questions to ask your team as you decide if it’s a good fit for you.
What Is Small-Scale Manufacturing?
At its core, small-scale manufacturing is exactly what the name implies — making products in lower volumes at a small production facility. You can do that by working with a good contract manufacturer that specializes in small quantities. Low or medium-volume production is nothing new, and your company may already be doing this. Small-scale manufacturing is a movement focused on building those small-scale production lines in ways that benefit both local communities and your company.
Most small-scale manufacturing facilities fall into one of the following three categories.
Artisan and Micro-Manufacturing
These facilities are small production spaces with one to five employees. They use simple tools to produce small quantities of products. Artisan workshops — where skilled craftspeople create unique goods — focus on handmade products. Micromanufacturing uses standard production manufacturing but on a small scale with one or two machines and employees.
Both types of small shops can also be part of shared spaces like co-ops or maker spaces. Good examples would be a microbrewery, a workshop for leather handbags, or a two or three-person assembly line for a luxury sporting goods product.
Small Batch Production
More equipment and people allow this type of production facility to make higher volumes of product over a short period. Things are built in batches to take advantage of scale and specialization. Batch production is a well established manufacturing approach where, instead of making 100 finished assemblies a week over 10 weeks, you do 1,000 in a week. This method enables you to buy material in larger quantities, focus employees for efficiency, and shift resources to other things in other weeks.
A good example would be exercise equipment that is welded and then assembled or a line of artistic side table lamps. If you were building side table lamps, your production batches may include turning all your lamp bases one week, sewing and assembling lamp shades the next, and then assembling and wiring the completed product on the third week. This is much faster than building a lamp from start to finish in one pass.
Any bigger manufacturing business with more than 10 but fewer than 50 people is considered a moderate production business. You can achieve significant production volumes when you pair employees with automation, good tools, and clear processes.
Proven strategies like resource planning (MRP) software, automation, industry 4.0, lean manufacturing principles, and other best practices can result in cost-effective manufacturing solutions — allowing your company to offer competitive pricing while lessening logistics and scheduling issues. Some good examples of moderate production facilities that use the concept of small-scale manufacturing are aerospace component manufacturing, regional breweries, and medical device manufacturers.
Lots of Options
The categories listed above are just guidelines. The right size and location for your product or products will be unique and driven by your business ideas. The key is to find the right location for your needs.
And if you’re not interested in running your own manufacturing facility, a growing number of contract manufacturers have adopted the small-scale manufacturing model. Hiring them has almost all of the advantages of adding manufacturing to your own business without you needing to build out your own manufacturing line.
Getting Started With Small-Scale Manufacturing
Build a World-Class Manufacturing Team
Speaking of people, the next task is all about getting the right people together. This includes employees, partners, and a product design team that understands manufacturing. For small-scale manufacturing, this team includes the right supply change management team and partners to help with sourcing components and raw materials.
Bring experts to the table who know how to implement automation and new production tools, like additive manufacturing. To overcome higher local labor costs, you’ll need to leverage technology found in industry 4.0 for greater efficiency and quality.
Engage Product Development to Optimize Your Product
Most design engineers will dig into a new product design with the assumption that you’ll be using large-scale manufacturing and off-shore methods where labor is inexpensive. Because of this, they may design your product to be assembled with screws. If you’re using small-scale manufacturing, you will want to design an assembly approach that can use a robot or that can be done much more quickly — perhaps adhesives, snap-fit connectors, or sonic welding.
Build an internal team or find partners who understand and use lean product development principles and can drive your product design towards customer value and efficient manufacturing.
Go Big With Small Scale
The world of global manufacturing is in turmoil, and consumers have fully embraced e-commerce as a way to shop for and buy products. The emergence of the small-scale manufacturing movement is timely. If your new product is the right fit, you can improve your time to market and product quality.
Finding the right partners is key to making community-focused production part of your business. At Gembah, we are here to help you find the proper research, design, sourcing, and manufacturing talent. We bring our in-house expertise and offer a growing marketplace where we connect creators, experts, manufacturers, and partners.
There is no reason for you or your company to take this journey alone. Reach out today and let us know about your project. We can help you start a new journey or make improvements to the path you’re on.