Time to read: 5 min

We create Fictiv’s annual State of Manufacturing report to gain insight into the current trends, goals and concerns in the industry. In 2021, our survey of hundreds of manufacturing executives showed that driving supply chain resilience and new product introduction (NPI) are keys to success in a post-COVID world. 

Because these topics are at the top of my mind, too, I brought together Amazon Web Services (AWS) Worldwide Business Development leader, Michael Putnik, Honeywell Aerospace VP of Manufacturing Engineering John Hobgood, and Jake Hall — who chronicles the industry as the Manufacturing Millennial — to discuss them. 

The group has the acumen and experience to talk about supply chains and NPI in depth and provides insight on multiple topics, including using data analytics and automation to strengthen supply chains and resolve workforce challenges, and fast-tracking manufacturing innovation.

Build Supply Chain Resilience With Analytics and Automation

Planning for future disruptions and creating resilience in the supply chain are areas of focus and investment as Honeywell Aerospace ramps back up to meet resurgent demand. Hobgood’s team is taking a data-driven approach to identifying the aircraft platforms that will be most in demand initially. From there, they determine the highest impact areas in their supply chain where they can compress cycle times. Knowing those areas of critical impact also tells them where they may need multiple suppliers in place to keep up with demand and maintain quality. 

“Manufacturing companies need to understand at a much deeper level of detail where they can improve their supply chain — there are clearly higher impact areas that you need to ensure are more robust first,” said Hobgood. “There is so much data out there helping identify which of our products and platforms will ramp up first. You really need good data analytics to do that.” 

While analytics are important for Amazon, automation has also played a crucial role in creating the company’s flexible and robust supply chains. “While resilience is a new term for some,” said Putnik, “it’s something we’ve lived and breathed at Amazon for many years.” 

For Amazon, automated routing and an ability to identify bottlenecks have proven critical to providing the right customer experience — it’s how they make sure that products promised to arrive at 2pm on Thursday, do. Because it has such a vast network of suppliers, Putnik said that Amazon developed a templatized, automated approach to working with them. During the pandemic, analytics helped identify in-demand products and efficiently balance supply and demand. 

I found it incredible that the pandemic made data-driven resilience a top concern for such disparate companies — one, a traditional OEM with 100 years of experience, and the other an original dotcom with automation hardwired into its DNA since day one. Despite their differences, they both face changed expectations within their supply chains. 

As consumers have learned to expect delivery on specific dates and times, Hobgood explained that sort of transparency is now the default expectation for supply chain managers. The new conventional thought is: “if my phone can tell me a package is two blocks away, why can’t I expect the same for my aerospace component?”  

Putnik believes the key to meeting these expectations is through accurate forecasting using data. Amazon has grown adept at forecasting vertically within silos, but still has difficulty working horizontally to match supply with forecasted demand. 

Train Your Talent to Work With Automation

In addition to providing a supply chain solution, many see automation as a way to deal with an industry-wide shortage of skilled labor. A range of factors are leaving manufacturers struggling to maintain a skilled workforce, but it’s not just a recruiting issue. And it’s important to note that the industry shift to automation isn’t focused on replacing people with machines — it’s looking for areas where robots can work cooperatively with humans to create more efficient workflows. 

Hall said that automation is a critical part of compensating for the lack of workers, but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle. He believes that the real key is in keeping and training existing workers. “Manufacturers are more focused on employee retention than ever before. They realize if someone leaves, there’s no one to replace them. If you can’t hire controls engineers or robot programmers, you can train the people you have.” 

Hobgood agreed, and doubled down on the idea of developing people internally. Not only does Honeywell invest in management to help guide employees, it also works to identify critical skills gaps and create training to develop those skills in team members. “If you’re not investing in your people adding new skills to manage these new digital threads and automation, you’re not going to win in today’s environment.” 

Build an Express Lane for Innovation 

Winning in 2021 isn’t just about leveraging data and automation technology to strengthen your supply chain and your labor pool. Learning how to innovate and accelerate new product introduction in a time of upheaval and disruption can provide a crucial competitive advantage, too.

Honeywell’s already doing the work. Hobgood described how he helped create a sort of HOV lane for new ideas at the company because Honeywell’s traditional systems and supply chains became barriers to innovation. The HOV lane is a parallel workflow that prioritizes flexibility and speed, but has controls to ensure the same compliance and quality the company normally achieves with traditional methods. That process is now Honeywell developed a new UV cabin system in response to pandemic needs, and put it into the market within one month.

On-demand manufacturing can supercharge innovation at any company, and it’s not just Honeywell who’s realized its advantages. 84% of leaders surveyed for the 2021 State of Manufacturing Report are already using an on-demand manufacturing platform. They know that those platforms’ highly vetted and skilled networks aid in the design and manufacturing process and provide the speed and quality they need to compete and win.

Two years ago, many, if not most industry observers were betting that it would take a decade for on-demand manufacturing to go mainstream. With the pandemic serving as a forcing function, that digital transformation happened in a year. 

Fictiv sits at the center of this evolution by combining world-class software tools and manufacturing operations people to digitize and future-proof manufacturing. The “next normal” is here, and the operative question isn’t “what did you digitize,” but rather “what didn’t you?” 

If you’d like to learn more, watch the full conversation here.