It may come as a surprise to you that there’s a prominent place for marketing in your manufacturing processes. And, if you ignore marketing in manufacturing, thinking that marketing comes only AFTER the manufacturing process is finished, you’ve missed the boat. Everything that happens on your shop floor makes a difference to your customers. For instance, sacrificing quality for cost containment is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. By the same token, manufacturing processes filled with inefficiencies result in higher costs that make it hard to attract customers while operating efficiencies build a competitive price advantage that’s hard for your competition to match. Today, I’d like to explore the function of marketing in your manufacturing processes.
A place for marketing in your manufacturing processes
In marketing, we even have a name for this concept — service-dominant logic. The concept of service-dominant logic of S-D logic isn’t a new one. In fact, one of my major professors during my PhD studies used this in his dissertation, although the term wasn’t around then. It’s the notion that even product companies, like the automobile manufacturer my professor used in his dissertation, deliver services and it’s often the services that determine customer purchase decisions — like the warranty, roadside assistance, customer service, and repair shop provided by a dealership.
However, the role of marketing in your manufacturing process goes well beyond this notion of S-D logic. Marketing in your manufacturing process involves things you might not consider such as:
- Are you making the right products in the first place? I once did marketing research for a Fortune 100 company. They had the idea of making a great product to add to their line. We researched the appeal among existing customers to discover no one wanted the new product. They ignored our advice only to sell 2 when the break-even was 50.
- Do you manage your staff to get the best efforts from individual workers and great coordination across teams? Some companies don’t understand that employees are internal customers so you need to treat them well and get them to work together effectively, which is marketing. I’d be willing to bet that it’s this failure that ultimately explains the problems at Boeing. Employees don’t want to deliver shoddy work, but they expect to be treated as valued members of the organization, or they might let little things slide, leading to big problems like doors falling off of airplanes during flight.
- How is your supply chain (also part of marketing)? Do you manage your inventory effectively to reduce costs from storage or paying for expedited delivery? Do you have good relationships with your supply chain partners so you work together like a well-oiled machine, again providing efficiencies? Are you buying quality materials since you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?
- Do you offer support services needed based on the products you sell?
- Have you removed costs from the system when these costs don’t contribute to customer value?
- Can you deliver products to customers in a timely manner?
- Is your manufacturing process optimized? I once did some consulting for a manufacturing company that made specialty metals for customers. As they grew over the years and added more products, they added new machines wherever there was space. When I first visited, the sprawling campus required extensive movement within the facility as the metals moved from raw materials to finished goods. Each time you move your product, you incur costs. And, in this situation, each time they moved the metal they risked damaging the product, which required the company to rework metals before the process was complete.
Specific tools to make your manufacturing process more efficient
Look to automation
Technological upgrades in the manufacturing space can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of production methods over time, and few are quite as valuable in terms of the savings they produce over less technologically advanced manufacturing techniques. Automating your processes not only reduces the number of people you need on your team to keep the production line working, but it also reduces the chances of human error, which can grow costly in a team that is too large. Machines are really good at performing a task over and over without making a mistake. Humans aren’t so good at that.
You should also opt for a philosophy of zero product defects whereby you inspect products as they move from raw materials to finished goods so you can adjust the process quickly. This reduces waste, as mistakes are fixed before you repeat the mistake a thousand times. Often, these processes require automation as tools automatically stop the line once the material goes outside the allowed tolerances assigned at each stage of production.
Another place where automation leads to higher efficiency and effectiveness is in maintaining your equipment. Software can ensure you do regular maintenance when suggested by the equipment manufacturer. Similarly, you can automatically check the performance of your machines by using IoT (the Internet of Things) to transmit information to a supervisor when the machine becomes too hot, or another external factor negatively affects the machine’s performance or shortens its useful life.
Of course, you still need qualified workers to operate automated machinery and ensure their output is good, but you can greatly reduce your reliance on human labor.
Know when outsourcing is the answer
You need to ensure you have the tools for the job. When you’re trying to produce a certain part, it’s worth taking the time to weigh your options related to how you acquire the tools needed to complete that task. In many cases, you may find that it costs less to source processes and the use of equipment like a plastic injection mold, rather than installing your own. Or, you might find it more efficient to buy a sub-assembly rather than manufacture it yourself. Car manufacturers outsource many products, such as wiper assemblies, radios, and computers rather than make the parts themselves since these inputs either require specialized knowledge the car manufacturer doesn’t have or represent a part that’s a small fraction of the overall price of the vehicle so as making the product in-house isn’t worth the expense.
Aside from avoiding the high costs of purchasing a machine or an entire manufacturing line, outsourcing gives you immediate access to trained professionals, so you don’t have to invest in training them either.
Make better use of your resources
How you manage the materials, machine parts, and other resources that go into your manufacturing process is a vital component of efficiency such that poor inventory management results in higher costs and/ or lower quality.
You want to make sure that you have a supplier that can ensure you get the resources you need when you need them, but you also want to avoid having too many at once, taking up storage space, and efforts to maintain them and keep them high qualify. Many firms have gone to single-source suppliers to build better relationships along the supply chain to reduce costs while maintaining high quality. They use software to coordinate order processing to reduce errors and speed up payments to suppliers so they can take advantage of reduced pricing.
A good manufacturing inventory system can help you better track your needs and ensure that you don’t have too few or too many of any material or part at a given time.
Focus on your people
Reducing your workforce through automation is not the only way to create a more cost-effective team. Investing in them and making them higher-value workers works just as well. Churn can cost a lot, and investing in their development, training, and standard of living can help you avoid paying those costs. Cross-training your employees can also help them become more well-rounded and fit into gaps that might be left open by absences, as well.
A better understanding of your costs, and what you can do to mitigate them is going to result in a much more effective and cost-efficient manufacturing floor. Take the time to look into it.
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