Production engineers and manufacturers know that increasing volume using standard components reduces unit cost production; a philosophy improved by LEAN and six sigma. This deep seated knowledge drives a vigilant focus on delivering efficiency in manufacturing production.
It therefore seems paradoxical that despite understanding these principles, manufacturers have not used similar forms of innovation to deliver their facilities. Particularly global manufacturers with numerous facilities worldwide producing the same product.
Even for manufacturers producing multiple product lines in different facilities, it seems logical to look at standardising elements of the manufacturing facility to realise the benefits of volume in reducing the capital investment cost of the facility.
Prefabrication, is the logical extension of standardisation and volume.
So, if manufacturers are conversant with the concepts of volume to reduce cost and standardisation of modular elements of works — a technique particularly familiar to those with large sub assembly components and supplies as part of their production process — it prompts the question, “why don’t manufacturers focus more on using prefabrication?”
Prefabrication is particularly effective where there is a high degree of repetition and standardised modular elements of works, and where there is pressure on the availability of skilled trades in a local construction market.
Additionally, prefabrication reduces on-site labour — by enabling construction and assembly of elements of work off-site, and their transportation back to site in a semi-finished form for installation.
Given the philosophical parallels to manufacturing production it is somewhat puzzling that large global manufacturers have not taken a deeper look at how they construct their facilities; employing processes which are part of their DNA, to reduce capital investment waste.
However the tide is turning. Two things are stimulating this change. Firstly, the more persuasive use of BIM (building information modelling) in design. Secondly more enlightened manufacturers seeking to work more closely with creative facility designers to re think manufacturing facility design from its outset.
Recently, manufacturers have increasingly used modularisation to seed a new market with product to prove demand and strengthen a business case; without the initial capital cost and risk associated with a full scale implementation.
Modularisation ranges from full service pop-up factory to alignment of utilities and asset management systems.
As pop-up factories have proven demand, we have seen naturally risk averse manufacturers become aligned and supportive of market expansion projects. The benefits of modularisation for manufacturers include:
With Africa’s middle class growing fast, pop-up factories are a streamlined way to provide a fit for purpose supply footprint with minimal capital risk. Large global food and beverage manufacturers are already successfully developing and deploying this thinking in emerging regions.
Other key considerations for manufacturers around pop-up factories are:
The pop-up factory is not suited to all markets and products. It is attractive in modest markets like Ghana, Mozambique and Zambia, not established markets like Nigeria or South Africa where large food and drink facilities exist.
Pop-up factories present a low risk start up in areas where there are political risks, high costs for power and materials or onerous regulations and corruption.
Apart from investing in modularisation for pop-up factories, manufacturers can also realise modularisation benefits across other facilities and locations — the most obvious being the deployment of utilities, services, offices and accommodation.
We see the manufacturing industry moving from procurement of discreet parts to procurement of modular systems. Modular systems provide manufacturers with global standardisation and consistent delivery across various locations.
Ever changing consumer needs are challenging manufacturers to continually produce more with less, improve quality and consistency and provide products to global markets. The potential performance improvement gains from modularisation could be a profitable competitive differentiation advantage.