Agility: the key to evading manufacturing downturns

Norval Scott
August 14, 2023
Agility: the key to evading manufacturing downturns

At the time of writing (August 2023), UK manufacturing output figures have declined for 8 straight months and are now at their lowest since mid-2021 - and the eurozone isn’t far behind. 

The reason? Not, this time, the direct result of a major global political or economic event (such as Covid, Ukraine, or inflation), but more the result of how companies have reacted to global circumstances. 

Fearing supply-side disruption, corporations have been stocking up on supplies, but buyer demand hasn’t kept up - so now inventory levels are too high, and there’s little need to commission new manufacturing orders until some of those are consumed. 

According to Rob Dobson, ​​director at S&P Global Market Intelligence: “[UK] Output fell at the quickest pace since January, as overstocked clients, rising export losses, higher interest rates and the cost-of-living crisis coalesced to create a worrying intensification of the slump in demand.

“Although manufacturers maintain a generally positive outlook for the sector, with over half still expecting output to rise over the coming year, other forward-looking indicators show the mire that industry is currently facing. 

“Domestic and export demand are weakening, and backlogs of work are declining sharply, all of which likely presages further cutbacks to production, employment and purchasing in the months ahead.”

It’s a cyclical industry that is currently going through a rapid series of revolutions. But at CloudNC we wonder - is there a way for manufacturers to ride the market waves and come out on top?

Standing still vs moving quickly

We’ve previously written about why precision machining is so difficult. In brief, the reasons are that every job is different (and therefore hard to quote for), which makes timing the jobs for best efficiency and profitability almost impossible. Added to those factors are that everyone will machine a part their own way - adding to the variance a manufacturer has to deal with. 

Added to those factors is the ongoing skills shortage that makes it almost impossible to train someone up to become an expert without them earning that expertise the hard way - through year upon year of training and gathering knowhow - and it’s clear why operating a factory isn’t easy. Our conclusion previously was that the ideal situation for a factory owner was:

“All of these factors mean that the safest course for factories is to make their lives as simple as possible: remove the variance as much as possible, and specialise on one thing. You want to get to a situation where you’re working in a specific industry (say, oil and gas), making the same parts for the same three or four companies, so your business becomes predictable and you don’t need to re-invent the machining wheel every day.” 

However, as we also noted, that leaves factory owners vulnerable to changing economic situations - if there’s a downturn in the oil and gas sector and energy companies stop commissioning new equipment for exploration drilling, and you’re not positioned to win or execute new work, what happens to your business?

In effect, that’s what we’re seeing today - corporations aren’t putting in the orders that they were, meaning that factories need to find new orders and customers. But that’s not easy: quoting for new parts takes time, and get it wrong and machinists will end up making a loss on every job. And if they win the work, they’ll need to create new programs so their CNC machines can make the components - which is time consuming in itself. So what’s the solution?

Agile manufacturing with CAM Assist 

In June 2023, CloudNC released its new software solution - CAM Assist. According to the results from our beta testing, manufacturers were able to reduce their overall programming time by up to 80%, saving hundreds of hours in production time per year. 

Of course, by reducing programming time, CAM Assist helps manufacturers be more efficient. But now the solution is live and being used in earnest by real machinists in their day-to-day, we’re seeing other benefits too. 

Users are reporting that they’re also using CAM Assist to cut down the time they take to quote for new work, as the guidance provided by the software on how best to machine a component enables them to estimate more accurately, and more quickly. One customer estimates that for a part that they would usually take 1 hour to accurately quote for, with CAM Assist they can now achieve the same results in 5 minutes. 

The result? CAM Assist users tell us that by pointing the software at winning new work, (in addition to using it to speed up programming time), they’re able to quote more efficiently, meaning they can use their time more effectively - whether that’s to carry out more quotes, execute on existing projects, or carry out the million and one other jobs that running a factory requires. 

Can CAM Assist make your factory more agile? Get in touch and you could benefit from a skilled estimation expert assisting you via your desktop today. 

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