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Full Speed Ahead to Plant Size One

Oct. 19, 2021
Manufacturers can ill-afford to sit on the sidelines while the sector works through its post-COVID recovery.

In a transformational time for the global manufacturing sector, the post-COVID recovery has been no less disruptive. While job openings are seemingly everywhere and supply chains are impacted as a result, the business of manufacturing has seldom been busier.

With manufacturing growing at a robust 20% above its baseline levels according to the Institute for Supply Management, it would be reasonable to conclude these dual concerns about supply chain disruptions and job openings have been overblown. It’s also possible that the reverse is true—when the supply chain is reconnected and the jobs are filled, manufacturing is poised for a historic growth spurt.

Either way, too many manufacturers are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how it all works out. That is the least desirable of the outcomes.

The growth of the Internet of Things and the emergence of such concepts as artificial intelligence have gotten folks to imagine a world of Lot Size One—a place of singular manufacturing to specific consumer specifications in which a flexible, intuitive and dynamic production line can produce one of anything instead of thousands of one thing. That world already exists in many sectors, and as technology improves and evolves, that idea of Lot Size One becomes a more intriguing concept.

To accomplish this requires automation, skilled planning and a dynamic supply chain specifically configured to meet the needs of the end-user. It requires Plant Size One.

At Pack Expo in September in Las Vegas, I saw the potential around this concept played out in some unique ways. One manufacturer showed a conveyor system at his booth and noted a plant manager had asked to buy the system right off the show floor. Other vendors reported a similar appetite to upgrade systems and processes. Some of those who see the limitations of speed and personnel also are unwilling to wait for things just to get better. They are reimagining their own facility and tailoring it to meet their specific production needs.

The good news for such manufacturers—and for those who remain on the sideline—is that the technology exists to minimize disruptions and overcome the bottlenecks facing manufacturers today. The supply chain must be more reliable and more flexible. We must assess our hiring needs and develop an attractive pitch for those looking for longer-term security, not just transactional employment.

But even if we cannot solve either of those issues today, we can’t wait for the solution to emerge. We must take full advantage of the technology to not just ride out this wave, but to catch the next one at full speed.

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