Archive for the ‘Manufacturing’ Tag

Going global the smart way

Canadian companies need to look to global markets to drive growth, or even survive, in today’s economic climate.

The impetus for companies to go global is driven by a number of trends. The country’s market is relatively small, fragmented and grows slowly. Many firms face threats from emerging markets and rebounding American competitors, all spurred on by globalization and falling trade barriers and tariffs. At the same time, it’s never been a better time to export thanks to a weaker dollar, extensive ties between new Canadians and their home countries and the world-shrinking impact of technology.

How can companies prudently go global without incurring undue risk and blowing the budget? Consider this 5C strategy framework:

1. Country acumen

Companies need to deepen their analysis of target markets beyond counting the number of potential customers or identifying competitors. Businesses need a granular understanding of customer habits, distribution channels, pricing and regulations.
2. Competitiveness

Business will never take off if it’s not able to design and deliver a competitively priced product tailored to local needs. Expect to go through multiple executions to find the winning product and an approach to marketing it.

3. Connections

In many markets success hinges on finding and working with politically connected, reliable and experienced business partners. They’re vital to establishing initial credibility, overcoming hurdles and helping secure early customer acceptance.

4. Capital

Companies need not break the bank when exporting, especially when they’ve done their homework and have the right partners. However, managers shouldn’t be too frugal either. Business risks can increase when you under-spend in critical areas like customer care, logistics and local professional services.

5. Commitment

As with other major investments, having unrealistic short-term goals can lead to disappointment. Patience and fortitude are needed, particularly in the less developed markets where things that could go wrong often do.

Learn from others

Plenty of Canadian companies have successfully gone global and offer what they learned to those considering the exporting plunge. CSR Cosmetic Solutions, a medium-size firm based in Barrie, Ontario, is one such example.

CSR is a contract manufacturer competing in the global cosmetics and personal care product industry. It was established in 1943. Almost 80 per cent of the business is exported to Costa Rica, France, Germany and the U.S. among other countries. Here are a couple of top tips that helped them.

1. Raise your game

CSR believes companies have to be competitive on a global basis over the long term, regardless of fleeting advantages like favorable exchange rates. Businesses should also deliver superior products to compete against incumbents in their home markets.

CSR also raised its game by doing the right things, right. For example, they regularly aim to improve competitiveness by stripping out unnecessary costs, training employees and prudently leveraging new, productivity-enhancing technology and equipment.

2. Pick the spots that play to your strengths

CSR is very strategic in terms of which markets they target and how they penetrate them. They only choose markets where their corporate strengths – product innovation, organizational agility and delivering tailored solutions – can deliver a winning value proposition.

Furthermore, CSR minimizes risk by deeply understanding their target market including cultural norms, regulations and customer buying behavior. Finally, CSR strives to eliminate the client’s impression they are dealing with a foreign supplier. For example, in the U.S. the company uses American consultants for business development and account management. Marketing is tailored to reflect regional needs. And CSR’s logistics strategy is designed to virtually eliminate any border issues.

Steve Blanchet, CSR’s president and chief executive officer, says he tries to make its global trade seamless for the company and its customers.

“We continually review and understand the changing market conditions and regulations in our export markets,” Blanchet says.

There is no silver bullet strategy to winning in foreign markets. Instead, success is about keeping an eye on the fundamentals: being bold, doing your homework, demonstrating agility and focusing on continuous improvement from a cost and product perspective.

Mitchell Osak is the Managing Director, Strategic Advisory Services at Grant Thornton LLP, a leading Canadian advisory, tax and assurance firm. He can be reached at Mitchell.osak@ca.gt.com and on Twitter @MitchellOsak

Next generation manufacturing, today

Recent advances in digital fabrication technologies have the potential to revolutionize how companies build products and target consumers. Manufacturers can now produce many customized products and prototypes ‘when needed, as needed’ with the same economics as high volume production.  DF technologies will transform many industries including apparel, consumer & industrial products and healthcare – as well as local economies, which may experience a manufacturing revitalization.   Savvy manufacturers are exploring how they can leverage these new technologies to compete better.

The rapidly evolving field of DF is doing for manufacturing what the Internet did for information-based goods and services.  DF turns traditional, volume-based manufacturing economics upside down. In the conventional “subtractive” production model, the existence of scale economies means that it costs much more money to produce one unit than it does to produce say 100,000 units.  When DF technologies and approaches are employed, it now becomes cost effective to manufacture much smaller batches of customized products on demand, while shortening the cycle time between design and production.

Not surprisingly, DF has disruptive characteristics. “3D printing can provide the garage entrepreneur with the same productive capabilities as the large corporation,” says Abe Reichental, CEO of industry leader 3D Systems.

Additive technologies

At the heart of DF has been the development of additive-based technologies like 3D printers.  These machines allow firms to take digital designs and rapidly print (i.e. build) products or parts from a variety of materials using bonding or fusing techniques. The 3D printer’s advantages in programmability, quick set up times and rapid change-overs enable firms to produce small batches and prototypes for the same cost per unit as long production runs.  Furthermore, companies can rapidly adjust production to meet customer demand and changes in taste.

3D printing is best suited for products or parts that are expensive to inventory, need high levels of customization and require quick production runs. In the healthcare sector, the 3D printing future is already here. Over 10 million 3D-printed hearing aids are currently in circulation worldwide. 3D printing is being adopted by industry leaders such as GE, Medtronic, Boeing and Mattel as well as a host of smaller enterprises to make a myriad of items such as aerospace parts, iPhone accessories, orthopaedic implants, jewelry and toys.

The future looks promising:  additive technologies are evolving on a path similar to Moore’s Law: machine capability is growing while cost is decreasing exponentially.  Jeff Immelt, CEO of engineering giant General Electric, is convinced.  “I think it’s going to be big, I really do… [particularly for] shortening cycle times between designing products and making them.”  This advantage could help North American manufacturers compensate for higher wage costs compared with those in emerging economies such as China.

Of course, DF has its limitations.  The technology is not mature enough to handle large or complex products.  Furthermore, additive technologies cannot match the low cost and throughput of conventional manufacturing for routine parts.

Open Source Manufacturing

Perhaps the most intriguing facet of the DF revolution has been the emergence of an ‘Open Source’ manufacturing movement. Booze & Co. describes this as the rise of a ‘Maker Culture’ – a self-organizing community and supply chain made up of hundreds of connected manufacturers, consumer groups, on-line shopping sites, and hacker groups.

The Maker Culture encompasses an ecosystem of players.  Online fabrication services like i.materialise and Sculpteo provide on-demand 3D printing for personalized small volume production, at rates that are affordable to individuals and small businesses. Customers forward a digital design and receive the corresponding physical item by mail a few days later.

New open design repositories and DF-powered supply chains are sprouting up on the Web.  Thingiverse is an online hub where people can freely download each other’s designs and programming code for such ubiquitous products as bottle openers, gears, and coat hooks.  Distributed manufacturing networks like Makerfactory and 100kGarages connect digital manufacturers directly with a global market. Potential customers post job requests, which are then bid on by individual fabricators.

Similar to their programming cousins, Makers are forming open source collaboratives and workshops around the world. These spaces are not centrally owned or organized, but they share information collectively and collaborate on each others projects. Makers are expected to publish their plans and specifications, typically under an open source license.  This allows others to copy, adapt, and co-develop designs, along with ensuring credit and mutual access to ideas. This cultural shift has the potential to germinate a diverse, dense and innovative network of local vendors centered around large original equipment manufacturers or by industry.

The rise of DF has important implications for every manufacturer.  Those that embrace the technological and cultural opportunities will benefit from lower production costs, greater innovation, a faster design-to-build cycle, and the support of a more responsive supply chain.

For more information on our goods and services, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Turning industrial waste into gold

The idea that waste from a manufacturing process can be reused or sold is fairly well established.  In agriculture, cast-off corn husks are being converted into animal feed, while discarded cow parts are turned into everything from leather to jet engine lubricant. Harvard Business School professor Deishin Lee has pushed the notion of waste management even further with her concept of “by-product synergy.” As outlined in the school’s Working Knowledge newsletter, BPS is about taking the waste stream from one industrial process and using it to make a new product. According to Lee’s research, a BPS strategy can: 1) boost profits by reducing waste disposal fees;   2) create new revenue streams by using the waste to develop new products;  2)  decrease the environmental impact of a process and;  3) improve operational efficiencies through increased manufacturing utilization. 

Virtually every manufacturer defaults to a disposal or sale strategy when dealing with waste.  BPS looks at waste more strategically by asking a simple question:   What is the maximum value that can be extracted from the by-products given existing inputs, processes and capabilities?   At its full potential, BPS leads to the development of new products, derived from the by-product waste, and delivered through the same production process.

To tie her conceptual thinking into a practical tool, Lee developed a scenario-based model that is driven off the relative value of the original waste-generating product, the cost of waste disposal, and the cost of raw materials:

Scenario 1 – Waste has low value and utility  

Since the by-product is of low value, a company should not commit too much time or capital to repurposing the waste.  To maximize profits, firms would seek to dispose of the waste through traditional means and look for easy and inexpensive opportunities to turn some of the waste into a new product.

Scenario 2 – Waste has significant value and utility

As the value of the waste increases, managers would explore how to “productize” it within the existing operational model.  In some cases, there may be a profit incentive to actually increase the production of the original product in order to generate more “waste.” Though profits of the legacy product might fall due to market saturation or reduced operational efficiencies, the incremental revenue and profits from the secondary product could more than compensate for the loss.

Lee uncovered this insight in her study of Cook Composites and Polymers Co., a manufacturer of gel coats for premium yachts. One of the by-products created in the manufacturing process was styrene, a chemical used to clean molds between batches.  Interestingly, the firm discovered  styrene can also be used to make coating for concrete. Through productizing the styrene waste stream, the company gained more options to optimize the joint production process, creating a win-win situation for both products.

The operational benefits of manufacturing multiple products in one line will not always be apparent. Competing product priorities could generate capacity and workflow challenges since BPS implies a proportional volume relationship between products.

Scenario 3 – Waste is more valuable than original product

The company may discover that the by-product is more profitable than the legacy product. In this case, a consumer goods producer might deal with the problem by sourcing virgin material to create more of the secondary product. Not only does the company reduce costs for the original product by cutting down on waste, but it also gains competitive advantage over other firms for the secondary product – who are limited to sourcing virgin material.

Environmental questions

While BPS can deliver new revenues and greater operational efficiencies, its environmental benefits are not always clear cut.  According to Lee, “As you create more value and demand for your by-product, and you increase the quantity of everything, then emissions might increase, depending on process characteristics. That could be the unfortunate part of being successful.”  Furthermore, it is hard to quantify the net effect of a joint manufacturing process on the environment, as BPS may change the nature of the environmental impact.  In essence, Lee asks “Is it better to have carbon emissions or toxic waste in a landfill?”

Manufacturers with hundreds of inputs and complex production processes could face a dizzying array of BPS options.  To choose wisely, managers should apply a market lens to focus on what current customers want and what the company is well-positioned to produce. Properly planned and managed, BPS can be the alchemy that turns industrial waste into gold.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.