The world of manufacturing and global supply chains in the 2020s has been anything but smooth sailing. The COVID-19 pandemic cut off access to offshore production, operations grounded to a halt, raw materials were stranded, assembly lines stalled, and container ships sat idle. Over two years later, supply chains are still struggling to catch up.
This has caused many large enterprise manufacturers to consider rebalancing their operations to create a more distributed manufacturing network. Rebalancing – or redistribution of capacity – essentially creates more flexibility for where products can be made; it opens up the potential to shift capacity away from regions that are suddenly hard hit; and it ensures you’re not overly exposed in any one region, as you never know when or where the next crisis will occur.
The benefits of rebalancing
There’s no simple blueprint for how a company should design its factory footprint. The optimal mix of local, regional, and global sites – for both suppliers and production operations – will vary from company to company, but it’s critical to first assess where the majority of your end customers are and to try to align your supply chain as much as reasonably possible.
Having a distributed network of factories is not enough, however, if those factories rely solely on manual assembly. Not only would the economics of replicating multiple sites be cost prohibitive for most companies, factories with high labor intensity are also still vulnerable to pandemics, worker shortages, and unpredictable market demand.
That’s why automation – especially flexible, intelligent automation solutions like Bright Machines® Microfactories – plays a critical role in supply chain diversification and business continuity planning. Intelligent automation marries the benefits of traditional automation (high speed, throughput, and quality) with the agility and dexterity of humans. Complex, intricate assemblies that could previously only be done by hand can now be achieved with precision robotics and machine vision.
Here’s how Brightware® – the software that powers our microfactories – can support and accelerate your rebalancing strategies:
- Reduces risk: It allows manufacturers to facilitate the transfer of manufacturing capacity more easily from low-cost, labor intensive countries to higher wage countries in a more cost-effective way, helping to offset potential future risks and drive greater standardization across multiple factories.
- Enhances flexibility: It provides the flexibility to address both changes in capacity (volume) and specific products (type) from factory to factory as (local) demand changes.
- Increases resilience: Line operators can reprogram automation hardware and repurpose lines as needed, creating new capacity for other products rather than building an additional dedicated line or greenfield factory.
Rebalancing benefits the workforce as well. As production becomes more advanced with new technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, people themselves will need to follow suit. Manufacturers looking to rebalance and automate their factory operations should consider how their workforce evolves in tandem, especially given the global labor shortage impacting the industrial sector.
Instead of reducing their labor pool, some companies are reassigning assembly line workers to other, more value-added tasks – leaving the robots to handle the tedious and mundane tasks. Having intelligent solutions like Bright Machines on the factory floor means that manufacturers have an opportunity to implement reskilling or upskilling programs for their workforce, so they can not only interact with the technology but leverage it to drive innovation as well.
A new way forward
No one knows when the next big crisis or disruption will rear its head, but we now know to be better prepared. Having a reasonably distributed factory network, aligned to the locations of the customers you serve, with intelligent, flexible automation that can adjust when things change (as inevitably they will) is the practical, smart way forward.
Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team to start the conversation.