The Manufacturing Industry was Surprised by the Success of WFH. Here’s What That Means for the Future.
Just as we saw in virtually every other industry, the global pandemic forced manufacturers to reevaluate where and how work gets done, accelerating the pace of digital transformation that was already well underway. It also busted one persistent myth: work from home (WFH) is simply not an option for many manufacturing job roles.
In fact, the latest numbers show the success of WFH – a surprise to many industry leaders – has laid the groundwork for an even more interesting discussion. If workers can be distributed successfully, why not manufacturing capacity?
2021 State of Manufacturing Report Reveals Shifting Trends
In the new 2021 State of Manufacturing report, hundreds of industry leaders weighed in on the connection between WFH and flexible manufacturing. A full 81% said the success of WFH inspired them to try new outsourced manufacturing methods for precision parts. This shift appears to be the strongest signal yet that the industry is becoming less tethered to the ownership of physical spaces, both in regard to working and manufacturing facilities.
It’s important to pause for a moment and recognize just how big a shift this really is. In manufacturing, seeing is believing. Or at least it used to be. As Christopher Mims recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, what was once a non-negotiable – in-person factory tours for investors, customers and suppliers – now efficiently take place over Zoom. This new mindset creates tremendous opportunity to future-proof supply chains and remake manufacturing to meet the needs of tomorrow.
An especially relevant example of this is Sequoia-backed Mira Labs, whose Augmented Reality (AR) headsets enable real-time POV-video calling for frontline workers, eliminating the need for additional time and expense for travel. Practicing what they preach (or produce), Mira Labs’ Careers page on their website boasts “Work from Home (or the jungle)” as one of their benefits. It’s no coincidence that Mira Labs also uses outsourced HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing capabilities, with economical overseas production to produce fully functional units at high volume.
Can a Work Revolution Lead to a Manufacturing One?
According to the research, Mira Labs is among the increasing number of companies who “get it,” both from a human resources and manufacturing perspective. Respondents to the report who noted that employees will continue to work fully or partially remote rose to 57% in 2021. A rise also occurred amongst those who said they’d be more likely to outsource high-precision work – from 32% in 2020 to 40% in 2021.
The question is whether the couplet will remain connected. Interestingly, 84% of respondents said they’ve also already begun working with on-demand manufacturers, an obvious nod to flexible manufacturing requirements. Given that 100% of those who have done so reported benefits from that move, the evidence would suggest that distributed manufacturing will continue to trend upward regardless.
This powerful pairing of new remote tools and processes (for both people and operations) promises to address some of the key pain points experienced by manufacturing leaders. New data shows that 94% reported concerns about their supply chain, ranging from IT security risks (55%) to quality performance with existing suppliers (53%) to lack of visibility into operations that creates risk and uncertainty (31%).
Further, these challenges impact employee satisfaction and productivity, bogging them down with low-value tasks. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of respondents said supply chain management consumes a significant amount of an employee’s time, performing quality control for outsourced parts (63%); sourcing, vetting and onboarding new vendors (62%); and chasing down information on order status updates (50%).
Realizing New Product Innovation (NPI) For All
While keeping employees happy should be a fundamental concern, the real victim with the old ways of doing things appears to be new product innovation (NPI). When employees are hamstrung, either by processes or a lack of the right digital tools, innovation grinds to a halt. Slow feedback loops with manufacturing partners and difficulty sourcing fast, high-quality options to manufacture low-volume builds derails NPI.
In a world where speed to market is everything, more and more product manufacturing companies are trusting on-demand manufacturing platforms as part of their digital transformation to achieve the quality, agility and pace they need to win. In fact, the top named benefits by those using on-demand manufacturers in the survey were improved quality (62%), better transparency (61%), and faster development cycles (60%).
Just as easy-to-use digital platforms have paved the way for more efficient and convenient services in industries like healthcare and education, cloud-based solutions in the supply chain and manufacturing industry will be a game changer for the entire product lifecycle. These types of tools, whether in the early design phase, the prototype and validation phases or the go-to-market phase serve a democratizing function, lowering the barrier to entry.
There’s No Looking Back – And That’s a Good Thing
Manufacturers have realized that they can’t “un-ring the bell” on WFH – nor should they. Data from Pew Research suggests that many workers would like to telework when the pandemic is over. Similarly, the companies that have used on-demand manufacturing platforms have realized benefits they would be shortsighted to give up now.
The opportunity to move faster and create more value is here. Will you seize it?