Editor: What have the global supply chain crises of the previous two years taught the low-volume, high-mix manufacturing business?
George Henning: We will always need to react to challenges in this industry. Inventory (either raw materials or finished goods) is really the only sure bet for buffering against disruptions. Strong, established partnerships with trusted suppliers go a long way when the inevitable problems do arise.
Editor: Last year, OCM established a second line. What is your most important corporate initiative now?
GH: Our current focus is upgrading some IT systems and we expect this will have significant impact on our ability to be efficient and provide excellent support. For example, we recently upgraded some servers and our email infrastructure. Our enterprise resource planning and manufacturing software systems are next on the list.
Editor: OCM serves OEMs with low- to mid-volume products. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge or opportunity for those OEMs right now?
GH: The economy remains a challenge, I think for all businesses and particularly for those that rely at all on global markets. Financing is still a challenge for OEMs and it can hinder their ability to fund new innovation. But, as a country we need to fund that innovation. For example, there is a fantastic opportunity to leverage mobile devices and infrastructure to innovate, even in existing product spaces. There are so many mechanical or older technology solutions currently in use that can be dramatically improved through mobile, wi-fi and so on – these are areas worth investing in.
Editor: Of the many product concepts you see, what do the most successful ones have in common?
GH: Two things: a strong focus on customer needs and a design that can be manufactured at a marketable price point. All too many great ideas fail when they cannot be produced for what the market will pay.
Editor: Conversely, what are the most common faults you see in product concepts?
GH: Excessive labour content and process requirements that could have been avoided if design-for-manufacturing had been integrated early in the design process. Another common fault we see is a lack of planning for firmware programming and test in advance of production.
Editor: Are there particular types of products that are more successful in these times?
GH: If a product answers a real need for a defined set of customers – and assuming that is has a solid design – I think it will always find a market. For example, products that help an existing customer or market do something better, faster or more efficiently, such as in manufacturing automation, or control systems that improve on manual processes, or enabling existing solutions with mobile capabilities. To succeed, manufacturers must have strong relationships with their customers, listen, and respond to those customer’s needs.
Editor: What are the most effective ways of driving costs out of a product?
GH: Minimize the labour content. Avoid unnecessary processes. Use simpler, well understood technologies if you can, as they will be less costly and problematic. Start with a well-defined price point at design time and involve manufacturing concurrently to ensure this will be met or bettered.
George can be reached at george.henning(at)ocmmanufacturing.com