GUEST BLOG: Part 2 - How ready are you for the future of making things?

Autodesk’s manufacturing spokesperson, Asif Moghal, looks at why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when manufacturers work more collaboratively with their customers, partners and suppliers.

The fourth industrial revolution is in full swing. Connectivity between software, devices and people is unlocking the potential of new technologies such as additive manufacturing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning; and paving the way for a new era of design, engineering and manufacturing. But how prepared is your business for the future of making things? In the second of this five-part series, I explore how manufacturers can work more collaboratively with their customers, partners and suppliers.

T.E.A.M – Together, everyone achieves more

In the connected era; where digitally-savvy consumers are more demanding than ever before and competition to attract and retain their attention has never been higher, collaboration has become a critical component in design and manufacturing. Working closely with their customers during the design phase enables manufacturers to get instant feedback on their products; resulting in the creation of something that is more in line with what the market wants. This also speeds up the time taken to take a product from the initial concept to a point where it’s in the market, being sold and generating revenue.

Making your customer part of the design team also enhances their overall experience of your brand. Think about buying a new car, for instance. If you’re able to sit down with the team of engineers and customise every aspect of the car, you’re made to feel very special. This is likely to increase your loyalty to the car brand; and you’ll often be prepared to pay more for something that is uniquely tailored to you. You’ll also typically get the finished car faster; because you’ve been involved from the start of the process. BAC, a Liverpool-based supercar manufacturer, is one company leading the charge here. Customers are able to personalise hundreds of elements both inside and outside the car, resulting in a one-of-a-kind vehicle for each individual.

Behind the scenes, collaborating with the supply chain makes the design team appear bigger than it is. For example, getting a supplier’s input into the design process at the earliest stage possible means they will be able to inform which material will work best for the car’s alloys.

Getting collaborative working right

By following these processes, manufacturers can ensure close collaboration between their customers and suppliers:

  • Know your stakeholders

Collaborative design is more about getting to know your stakeholders better and their individual requirements. Of course, this means your customers and supply chain but it also means anyone who might be involved in the development, production and delivery of the product and the associated services that may be attached to that product afterwards.

  • Seek input earlier

Seeking your stakeholders’ input earlier is like expanding your design team by a factor of five at no extra cost, while also enabling you to be more innovative. It requires a communication platform that is very much removed from the traditional world of 2D drawings and 3D models, which not all your stakeholders will have access to nor knowledge of. Cloud-based communication platforms are ideal for any company looking for a more collaborative process; enabling multiple parties to access the same files from any location at any time.

  • Validate more designs digitally upfront

During the collaboration phase, stakeholders will be likely to ask a series of ‘what if’ questions. For instance, what if we moved the power input somewhere else? What if we made it out of plastic? What if the part was 3D printed? For the design and manufacturing company, it’s vital that they can design, simulate and validate all the ‘what if’ questions as fast as possible, and as close to real-time as possible, alongside their customers. In turn, this enhances the experience for the customer, who can watch their product idea being designed and validated in front of them, and have all their ‘what if’ questions answered immediately.

Look out for the third piece in this series, where I’ll be discussing the need for flexible manufacturing in today’s modern workshops and factory supply chains.