When Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, listed his top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019, every one of them involved manufacturing. Included in his list were meatless burgers, a carbon dioxide catcher, and a toilet that doesn’t need a sewer. All these technological wonders need manufacturing to make them a reality.
Whether you’re an inventor on the verge of manufacturing your debut product or you’re a curious hobbyist, here’s an overview of manufacturing products.
In our everyday lives, we come into contact with the products of manufacturing. So much so that it’s easy to forget that these products have been through a complex journey before we come into contact with them. Many of them will also continue that journey after we have finished using them and even become new products.
Manufacturing is the process whereby products are made. The manufacturing process uses labor, tools, and machines to turn materials into finished products. Sometimes there are chemical or biological processes involved in this activity.
The scale of product manufacture can be very small such as in craft activities. They can be big, such as in major industrial production. All involve a transformation from raw materials into finished goods.
An early step in manufacturing products is product design. This is a creative process that can start with idea generation and problem-solving.
Product designers develop product ideas. They take them through a process that ends with an invention or product with commercial viability. This role combines science and technology and even artistic and social thinking.
There are two distinct approaches to product design. Demand-pull product design and invention-push product design.
Demand-pull product design starts with opportunities or needs in the market. The product design seeks to meet that demand. It can include products which replace existing products and better meet the need or want than those products.
Invention-push product design is when research or invention creates a new product. This new product creates its own demand. New technologies are often innovations with invention-push products.
Making a product requires materials. Identifying and sourcing these materials is the business of materials specification.
Some products are manufactured from raw materials such as agricultural products or minerals. An example of this is a food product or steel.
Other products are manufactured from materials that have themselves been through a manufacturing process. They may be chemicals that have been processed in a chemical plant or components that have been pre-fabricated.
Once there is a product design and materials there has to be a product manufacturing process. This may involve designing and manufacturing tools or machines.
In a craft manufacturing process, this could be as simple as setting up a lathe for wood carving. Industrial-scale manufacturing could involve the creation of a production line using robots.
The Factory System
The factory system is a method of production that utilizes both machinery and labor. Labor is less skilled than craft manufacturing. This is because the manufacturing process is broken down into many stages.
This allows division of labor whereby each worker only completes a stage of the manufacture. They then pass the unfinished product on to the next stage.
The division of labor has proved to be a very efficient manufacturing process. As the process is inherently more efficient the cost of manufacture is less too. The need for lower levels of labor skills also means that training and retention of labor are less expensive.
Lower production costs mean greater profit margins. Or at least greater competitiveness against other products in the market.
When products go through a manufacturing process, value is added to them. For example, a semiconductor plant may use an ald deposition process to fabricate semiconductor devices. Even though this is not a finished product it may be sold on to a further manufacturer who may complete the manufacture of a consumer product.
The value of the fabricated product is greater than the raw materials because of the processes that have been completed. Any manufacturing products that have been processed in some way are intended to have value added to them.
Just-in-Time and Lean Manufacturing
There have been many innovations in product manufacture. Amongst the more recent ones are just-in-time and lean manufacturing approaches.
Just-in-time manufacturing seeks to reduce the costs of holding stocks of the finished product. It does this by producing the finished product as and when it is required. This is achieved by sophisticated planning, materials handling, and manufacturing technologies.
Lean is a methodology that seeks to control costs in manufacturing by minimizing waste in all its forms. The waste that adds cost to manufacturing includes wasted effort. Especially effort associated with uneven manufacturing schedules.
This smoothing of the flow of manufacture depends on high levels of coordination. Supply chain coordination from raw materials supplies through to the customer.
An even more recent innovation in manufacturing products has been the concept of customization. This is when products are manufactured in a flexible and responsive way. Individual customers can specify details that may be unique to them.
An example is T-shirts with corporate logos, made to the client’s specifications. The product is printed after the customer specifies the design they require.
Technologies such as 3D printing as enabling high levels of customization too. In this case, the specification can be set before the product is manufactured. A computer-aided design (CAD) program sends the specification to a machine that produces the product.
3D printers typically use a material extrusion technique to form the product layer by layer.
Life After Manufacturing
In these days of environmental awareness, there is a growing trend towards the recycling of products whose useful life is over. Rather than bury or burn them, the components can be re-used and even re-made into products. Manufacturing products must now incorporate how they will be recycled. Learn more about business and tech in our blog.