6 Things Small Manufacturers Must Do to Stay Competitive in a Changing World

Manufacturing is changing, fast. You already knew that, though.

The real question is, what can you — as a small manufacturer beset on all sides by competitive pressures the likes of which you’ve never seen — do to stay one step ahead of the competition?

Engineers in a small manufacturing plant

This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything independent manufacturers must do to maintain their competitive footing in this day and age, but don’t let that stop you from adding these items to your plate. Sooner or later, you’ll need to knock them down.

1. Wring Out Labor Inefficiency

Your operation is almost certainly more productive today than five or ten or twenty years ago. Perhaps you feel that you’ve picked all the low-hanging productivity fruit, and that from here on out you’re resigned to eking out incremental efficiency gains until the next labor-saving solution comes alone.

You may be missing the forest for the trees. If you’ve yet to outsource non-core functions like accounting and HR, you’re running an inefficient ship. Start by looking into automated bookkeeping platforms and gently manage your accounts payable team out the door.

2. Invest in Rapid Prototyping Technology

R&D is a time-intensive process. Cut it down to size by finding a rapid prototyping service provider that can help you visualize the next iteration of the product you’re developing without putting a halt to everything else.

3. Seek Out Small-Run Opportunities

Like what you’re getting out of your rapid prototyping relationship? Additive manufacturing can be just as helpful — and, from a bottom-line perspective, perhaps more so — for small-run production. If you deal with demanding clients seeking customized, high-tolerance parts for value-add operations, you’ll almost certainly come out ahead here.

4. Green Up the Production Process

Doing the right thing needn’t be unprofitable — at least, not anymore. No matter which way the regulatory winds blow, sustainable manufacturing is a great way to endear yourself to increasingly eco-conscious customers and do your small part to help the planet in the process. If you’re not sure where to start, the Environmental Protection Agency has a wealth of useful information for manufacturers looking to go green.

Semiconductor device manufacturing quality control

5. Refuse to Compromise on Quality

Your more sustainable, efficient, rapid manufacturing apparatus need be every bit as discerning as prior iterations. More so, in fact. Even customers that aren’t bound by regulation or client need to demand tolerances out to the fifth decimal place expect precision — as is their right. Smart manufacturers lean into this trend, playing up their ability to consistently produce the perfect fit, every time.

6. Rethink Logistics

Toyota has been doing it for years. These days, buoyed by an increasingly sophisticated supply chain, small manufacturers are getting in on the just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) act. Moving to a JIT framework won’t be seamless, but it’s better to start now than later.

Staying One Step Ahead

Small business owners don’t rest on their laurels. The concept is foreign. “Resting” is something you do when you’re asleep, or dead.

And it’s not just because hungrier competitors overtake those who rest. It’s because those who rest risk missing out on new technologies, processes, and practices that may make their lives a whole lot easier — and practical. It’s up to you to stay one step ahead of the pace of change, and you can’t do that from the couch.