Though it may not always feel like it, the world of manufacturing is always changing and adapting. Whether it’s logistics and sourcing or methodologies and time to market, there’s always a need to evaluate where your manufacturing and production are going.
More traditional manufacturing is often reliant on the low-cost/high-quantity model. Whether your production process requires injection molding millions of parts or doing high precision machining on thousands, this method was reliant on high-quantity orders. Generally, the more items you were able to order, the cheaper things got per item. This model makes sense because tooling, work setups, and pallet design make manufacturing multiple parts more efficient than one at a time.
This is especially apparent in machine shops, where setups can cost as much as the part run itself. That’s why machine shops doing old school manufacturing don’t usually like to take jobs that run less than 100 parts, some don’t even like taking less than 1,000.
When traditional manufacturers have hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions, invested in CNC machines or molding tools or other machine operations, it costs them money when those tools sit idol. With smaller-run parts, there is more idol time for the tools, since things have to be set up differently for different runs.
Don’t let the word artisan make you think that this style of production is archaic or inefficient.
Today’s manufacturing and engineering customers have complicated parts that are more customized and often quite unique from run to run. This is often because designers and engineering firms are getting smaller and more agile – it’s also because CAD software, like Fusion 360, is more accessible than ever. You don’t have to have traditional engineering/designer training to develop a viable product that is ready for production.
Artisan manufacturing, like its designer counterpart, is more agile and faster than traditional manufacturing. These manufacturers use less expensive, often pro-sumer style, tools to get their work done. This means that they may not be as precise, or perhaps as fast, but they are equipped to do low-volume runs. Specializing in agile or modular tooling provides these manufacturers the ability to operate side-by-side with designers.
Consumers, whether they are B2B or B2C, are coming to expect a more customized treatment. While artisan manufacturing outfits used to be relegated to doing startup work or prototyping, that accessibility to design tools has created a need for low investment manufacturing capabilities.
Which Is the Future?
Both forms of manufacturing have their strengths and weaknesses. Traditional manufacturing is expensive and prohibitive to anybody that doesn’t have piles of capital or investing partners, but with a commitment, can create lots and lots of parts efficiently and at a lower cost per piece. Artisan manufacturing is great for small businesses looking to make their first splash in the marketplace (think Kickstarter campaigns or customized components), but they can be quite expensive per piece – albeit, needing less capital than a traditional manufacturing endeavor.
So, which is the future? The easiest answer is both. The cost of tools will continue to drop, but the need for fast, high-quantity production will always be needed. As the market changes, artisan manufacturing will continue to grow, but it can’t be denied that industrial production will grow right along with it.