As manufacturing becomes increasingly competitive, designing an advantage for your company is essential to success. However, you need to ensure that any competitive advantages you achieve are sustainable. You might lose some of the gains you achieved, such as speeding up deliveries and lowering prices, as your competitors can do the same and catch up to you.
A better answer is to use technology to create a sustainable competitive advantage to strengthen your position as a leader in the manufacturing sector. Warren Buffett equates a competitive advantage to building a moat around your company. Companies obtain a sustainable competitive advantage when a specific aspect of their business has a one-sided advantage lasting well into the future.
The companies that use technology for their competitive advantage will leave their competitors in the rear-view mirror. Here are some solutions that could help your manufacturing business get – and keep – a competitive advantage right now:
1) Automate your processes
No longer just for larger enterprises, automation is affordable and available to companies of all sizes. Robotics (cobots), automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and ERP solutions are some examples.
Collaborative robots are versatile and less expensive models that have made robotics accessible to many smaller manufacturers in numerous settings. Intuitive software has mitigated the programming challenges, while integrated safety features now permit cobots to “collaborate” with human workers in performing complicated or repetitive operations.
And in today’s high tech factories, smart manufacturing software, ASRS systems, and ERP solutions are making it possible to manage inventory accurately, work efficiently with fewer workers, speed up deliveries, and increase productivity.
Collaborative robots (cobots) work alongside human workers
2) Invest in your employees
Hiring, training, and retaining skilled employees is a competitive advantage for any company. Gallup reports that business units with highly engaged workers enjoy a 21 percent increase in profit over their less-engaged competitors.
The recent pandemic highlighted the importance of employee engagement when many companies were forced to abandon parts of their workplaces and transition to remote work, where possible. By coming up with ways to engage their people in remote settings, they made them feel empowered and encouraged.
Investing the time and attention to selecting the top talent for open positions, training your current employees, offering opportunities for professional development, and creating the kind of culture in which workers feel challenged and supported can help you gain a competitive advantage.
3) Develop a digital showroom
Many successful manufacturers have a digital platform to enable responsive web designs and a virtual reality digital showroom unique to the industry. The company’s efforts have paid off, as time spent on websites increased by 40 percent while churn dropped by 15 percent.
Also known as virtual showrooms, these innovative solutions allow customers to engage with their products online. Often utilized by auto and furniture manufacturers, the digital showroom replaces physical showrooms and trade shows. And nearly every type of manufacturer could be a candidate for setting up a showroom.
4) UX Design results in a competitive advantage
User experience (UX) is a crucial factor for customers interacting with your product or service. A UX designer will consider the complete experience of purchasing, using, and troubleshooting a product. Aspects such as branding, design, usability, and function—along with efficiency, fun, and pleasure—play prominent roles in UX design.
Because of the potential of technological solutions, manufacturers can use various analytic tools to observe customer behavior and become familiar with UX preferences. Designing products based on the findings can help them build a sustainable competitive advantage.
5) Leveraging data analytics
Data analytics technology helps businesses understand their clients’ needs and optimize their marketing efforts. Following is a list of benefits to using data analytics for gaining a competitive advantage:
- Develop new products that are important to customers
- Manage customer relationships better
- Gain visibility to factory floor operations and opportunities for improvement
- Tailor your offerings to target specific customer needs
- Find, attract, and retain valuable customers
- Customize your marketing plans
- Identify new market opportunities
A competitive advantage is more important than ever
Today, small to mid-size manufacturing businesses abound, making it a very competitive environment. All that competition makes it all the more difficult to set a business apart from the crowd.
The challenge for many companies is to avoid the ‘me too’ business attitude by developing a sustainable competitive advantage to differentiate you from your competitors. Having this advantage is the recipe for success. It can enable sharper focus, increased sales, higher profits, and increased customer and staff retention.
Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies. Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical and Automotive to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of the L2L team.