February 2021 - Striven

How Manufacturers Are Innovating in 2021

As they do every week on Twitter from 2-3pm EST, the great people behind #USAManufacturingHour (@DCSCInc, @CvtPlastics, and @SocialSMktg) lead powerful and informative discussions about the latest topics in manufacturing. This blog is sourced from discussions from the inaugural #MfgHour Virtual Networking Mixer. 

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes—this is especially true in the manufacturing industry. While the manufacturing industry contributes a whopping 11% to the overall United States GDP, 75.3% of American manufacturers have fewer than 20 employees.

In short, the small business manufacturers of America continue to carry the weight of the economy on their backs.

This is no small feat, especially considering some of the staffing challenges that have plagued manufacturers of late. Despite 8.6% of the United States workforce being employed in the manufacturing industry, 89% of manufacturers report they are having trouble finding qualified workers. 

There are many factors that have contributed to the recent growth of this issue. This is a dilemma that demands industry-wide attention—and in some cases—a fundamental rethinking of business operations.

The future of manufacturing will demand a lot from businesses both big and small. While every manufacturer is unique in terms of their product and service offerings, one theme holds true—innovation is necessary. 

Small Change, Big Result

One of the most curious elements of innovation is that change often starts small. 

Let’s take a step back from manufacturing for a second—this is a theme that holds true across society at large. For example, the average person does not contribute an alarming amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The effect, however, is cumulative—while a single person’s actions don’t dictate the fate of our environment, the aggregate sum of every individual’s actions do in fact help dictate it.

Sure, this is a relatively moribund example, but it does effectively illustrate the point that small actions often have big consequences.

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In manufacturing, finding innovative and creative ways to increase the frugality of your production while upholding the standard of excellence that your customers and clients have come to expect is certainly no easy task.

Cathy Beck of Grey Sky Films has seen this play out firsthand. Videography had been disrupted by the pandemic—without the ability to have frequent site visits, it was time to think outside the box.

Cathy and her team worked hard to create custom content databases for her clients to access virtually. This not only satisfied her existing client base, but this methodology functioned so smoothly that it led to additional clients coming on board.

In the Beck household, finding innovative solutions is a family affair. Years ago, her husband helped a snack food manufacturer save a significant amount of money and resources with one, small change in product packaging:

“They realized that by minimizing waste by 1/10th of an inch would save them a ridiculous amount of money by the end of the year. Think about that, how tiny that was but how effective it was.” 

Not every innovation has to be a novel invention or a reality-shattering epiphany. Sometimes, all it takes is taking a more detailed and organized approach to the things your business already does well. And as the oft-quoted cliché goes, good things come in small packages. 

Lean Manufacturing Processes

Most of us have found ourselves in a position like this before: we are so hyper-focused—some may say “obsessed”—on the end result of a professional goal that we lose sight of what’s directly in front of us.

In other words, sometimes we put the cart before the horse.

Task management is vital in nearly every industry. In manufacturing, it takes on an elevated level of importance.

People have a tendency to keep their blinders on, especially when it comes to over-focusing on the final outcome of the product. That’s not a bad thing on its own—it’s obviously important to have a clear picture of your end-stage product.

Having only the end result in mind may cause someone to overlook various, crucial aspects of the production process—utilizing more fuel efficient machinery, finding more durable materials, and even assessing how your equipment is arranged on the production floor.

Lermit Diaz, CEO of SCTools, knows a thing or two about how important it is to focus on every detail of the lean manufacturing process. His approach: the size of the change is not as important as the consistency and dedication to every detail that serves the overarching goal:

“The small steps will encourage you to get that objective and you move to the next one and the next one.”

Gina Tabasso from Dar-Tech, Inc shares a similar perspective when it comes to keeping projects and production in scope. As we mentioned earlier, the vast majority of American manufacturers have less than 20 employees. In other words, not every company’s eyes need to be locked in on the jaw-dropping figures that companies like Apple and Volkswagen produce:

“You don’t need to be innovative on a global scale with your company or a process or project – it can be in your individual jobs.”

At the end of the day, make sure that you know what your end goal is—but don’t get lost in chasing it. Take your manufacturing process one granular step at a time. 

Adapting to Modern Manufacturing Methods

Every year brings industry wide change to manufacturing processes and the manufacturing industry as a whole. In 2020, we all experienced just how quickly change could be ushered in. 

For many in the manufacturing industry, it was time to upgrade their online presence. This meant seizing the opportunity for change in a way they hadn’t before.

When asked if anything changed in his marketing efforts, Noah from ArtusCorp summed it up succinctly:

‘”Absolutely. Yes, it changed. I would not be sitting here talking to you guys without that.” 

Sometimes the speed of change is overwhelming. In modern manufacturing—especially small business manufacturers—this is often the norm.

life cycle concept

Sometimes the speed of change is overwhelming. In modern manufacturing—especially small business manufacturers—this is often the norm.

Many who were not privy to the digital marketing landscape prior to 2020 found themselves entering 2021 much more knowledgeable on the various mediums that can be used to connect with customers and clients alike. 

One medium, Instagram, has been a boon for manufacturers as of late—some manufacturers have been able to utilize Instagram for making connections, showcasing products, and even making sales. Jen Wegman of Insight Information Solutions has seen firsthand the benefits that Instagram has to offer:

“I would target fabricators and woodworkers who needed castors for their stuff and we would get consistent leads on Instagram and you’d think, ‘why is a manufacturer on Instagram?’ You’d be surprised.”

Forming connections and fostering relationships with sales goals in mind is nothing new. But this year, many manufacturers have discovered new and creative ways to accomplish this goal.

Wrapping Up

Modern manufacturing innovation comes in many forms. More often than not, it’s new technologies that drive innovation by finding novel ways to increase efficiency. Other times, it’s repurposing existing technologies to better fit the needs of a growing business.

Beyond technological advancements, manufacturing innovation also arrives in the form of new methodologies and processes. Your end goal remains the same—the path you take to get there, however, has shifted.

No matter the size or the shape of innovation, it is always just around the corner.

How to Gather Requirements for ERP Implementation

When choosing an ERP for your organization, don’t make the decision based on another business’s experience. Often, the same system could be both super-efficient and non-efficient depending on the specific needs of the business. 

The best way to thoroughly implement an ERP? Involve your employees in the process.

Where To Start

As you assess the requirements that an ERP will need to functionally support your business, you should evaluate the status quo. 

Every organization has bogged down, bottlenecked processes that hinder progress—

analyzing your organization’s bottlenecks is the first step in determining the reasons your business will benefit from implementing an ERP. As you do this, define the main goals that you’re hoping to achieve by implementing a new software solution. 

Invite your team to collaborate—you’ll need as many insights as you can to develop a clear picture of what your business needs in terms of an ERP solution. Don’t limit your collaboration to the C-suite. Everyone in your organization—from the CEO to the newest intern—will be able to give you valuable insight into the different requirements different members of your organization require. You can also include a third-party ERP consultant to get an outside perspective. 

Prioritize The Processes You Need

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The selection of ERP software mainly depends on your business’s specific areas of need. For example, if you’re looking to manage your projects more efficiently, you should enlist the services of a software system focusing on project & portfolio management

Together with your team, understand which processes your business places a priority on. 

Your first task: gather feedback from as many members of your organization as possible. A good way to optimize the process is to send each employee a questionnaire to collect as many independent opinions as you can. 

The next step: sit down with your employees that deal with the most frustrating bottlenecks your business has. They deal with them directly, so they’ll be able to give you the clearest picture in terms of what part of the process needs to be adjusted. 

Brainstorm with your team to define the specific pain points that your employees identified. This list of needed features and improvements will guide you in choosing an ERP. 

List Your Requirements 

After you have collected enough data to analyze, it’s time to make a list of the specific ERP functionalities that your organization needs. 

Your Requirements Should Be:

Avoid high-level descriptions and turn the pain points that your employees voiced into specific requirements. 

For example: Your employees spend too much time manually tracking financial flows → The Erp software you choose should have extended automation functionality for financial management, including keeping detailed financial records on all of your  projects, should allow you to check their status anywhere, any time, and should generate financial reports at time intervals of your choosing. 

You should be able to clearly determine the value that certain upgraded features will add to your business. 

For example: track how many hours are saved by ERP automation. If your employees are manually entering data in Excel, track how many hours were saved as a result of automation. In this way, you should be able to easily calculate the return on investment of your chosen ERP.

Don’t fall victim to unrealistic expectations—a software is only a software. There is no magical solution that will mend your business ailments overnight. The right ERP will act as a catalyst for your business—make sure that your employees are working diligently to make the most of the powerful new tools at their disposal.

Making The Decision

person looking at software

After you’ve formulated your requirements list, it’s time to choose the ERP software you want to use. Most ERP vendors offer a free demo of their product. These demos are custom-tailored to give you a preview of what specific functionalities the ERP can offer—make sure you choose an ERP that is deft in handling all of the delicate intricacies that only your business needs. 

Make the most of the ERP providers’ experience. Utilize their team of software experts to ensure that their solution is able to be a comfortable fit for what your business needs.

Technical implementation is a major factor to consider. If you have an in-house team of developers, consult with them before making a decision. They will be able to provide insights that someone less tech-savvy may have glanced over. 

If you don’t have a team like this on your payroll, enlist an ERP that is able to walk you through and assist you with the oft-complex process of data migration and implementation. 

Training Your Employees 

The successful implementation of your new ERP isn’t the end of the journey, it’s really just the start. Your employees need to learn how to use the system. 

Although your enterprise resource planning software was designed and developed to digitize your organization’s processes and increase employee efficiency, many of them may be reluctant to learn how to use a new software. Your task here will be to communicate the value of the system and to teach your employees to build new and better professional habits. 

This is an arduous task at first glance, but there’s good news—most ERP vendors offer personalized support & employee onboarding. Not only will a team of experts develop a software tailored to your businesses specific needs, but they’ll show you the ropes and train everyone in your organization on how to get the most of the software. 

Wrapping Up

The prospect of shifting the entirety of your business’s operations to a new ERP can be daunting on the surface. But like most things in life, breaking down this large undertaking into digestible chunks will help you through the process.

The Best Steps To Follow In This Process: 

  • Gather as many insights from as many employees as you can
  • Determine the main objectives of ERP implementation
  • Make a list of the specific ERP functionalities you need 
  • Prioritize them in order of importance
  • Talk to your ERP vendor
  • Implement the ERP
  • Utilize the ERP’s vendors expertise in teaching your employees how to use the software

ERPs contain a wide-ranging set of functionalities across an even wider range of industries. Not every ERP will be perfect for your business, but don’t fret—the perfect ERP for business is out there.