Global manufacturing is not a new thing. It is almost a norm to see manufacturing companies are designing and engineering products in one place and then manufacturing it in multiple location. But the complexity of global manufacturing operations is increasing every year. New technologies, internet and connectivity is allowing to people to design products everywhere. Engineers around the world can be involved into new product design. Mass customization is another factor to consider. Customers are demanding individually tailored products. Finally, the logistic and supply chain is getting even more complex. Competition and cost pressure are pushing manufacturing companies to optimize even more.
IKEA is a great example of global manufacturing company with complex configurable products selling and manufacturing products worldwide. Recent Wired.co.uk article can give you a good background about IKEA. Two additional IKEA related articles came to my attention recently to demonstrate the complexity level manufacturing companies can encounter when designing, manufacturing and selling products globally.
Onshape blog IKEA relies on photo rendering speaks about how IKEA produce catalogs for multiple configurations of products. The examples are coming from recent DEVELOP 3DLive conference. IKEA is heavily relies on 3D CAD and photo rendering applications. Here is the passage that speaks about it.
With each piece of IKEA furniture being offered in numerous colors and styles, and sectional furniture offering endless combinations for consumers, photographing physical products for the catalog had become a logistical nightmare. Creating virtual furniture eliminated the need to ship furniture to the photo studio, and the need to physically move the furniture and later store it.
IKEA’s design department now makes 180 photo-rendered product images each day and adds 45,000 new product images into their library each year. According to Enthed, about 75% of the images in the 2016 catalog began as 3D CAD models. Only four years ago, the company reported that 12% of the catalog were rendered images, with the rest produced with traditional photography.
To visualize configurable product is one problem. But then the next problem is coming- manufacturing, logistic and supply chain. Recent Bolt blog post by Ben Einstein – What Startups Can Learn From IKEA brings interesting pieces of information about supply chain and logistic operation done by IKEA. Article is providing a great recommendation to manufacturing startups about how to “design for logistic”.
Here is my favorite passage:
Your $69 BILLY bookshelf and $2,500 SEKTION cabinets are made by different suppliers in different countries but share the same nails from a single Tier 2 supplier in China. This part sharing is critical to huge companies with diverse supply chains and it’s equally important to small hardware startups.
The reason is simple: going outside of the boundaries of the existing supply chain ecosystem is exponentially more taxing. It’s not just the cost of sourcing and development of a custom part. Every custom part has only one supplier that must be constantly validated for cost, quality, schedule, payment terms, reliability, etc. For example, if your design calls for custom machined screws, you may find maintaining a certain level of quality and reliability is far more difficult versus using a standard off-the-shelf commodity screw. Finding ways to alter a design to rely more heavily on commodity suppliers often saves large amounts of time/money and gives you flexibility should you have to switch suppliers.
What is my conclusion? Global manufacturing, configurable products and logistics are creating demand for better information management. It all starts from managing of product data, configurations, bill of materials, item master information and inventories. Large manufacturing company and small hardware startup are facing similar problems. The distribution of information in a modern manufacturing is a challenge. It is a note for product lifecycle management architects and technology providers. Just my thoughts…