From Toyota to Ford and Beyond: Lessons in Manufacturing from the Automotive Trade

October 8, 2016

If you were to believe everything that you read in the media, it would be tempting to believe that the global manufacturing sector is in a perpetual state of decline. The popular press often creates a negative and distorted view of the marketplace, however, and one which tends to be at odds with the reported facts and figures. Take the perception of the Chinese manufacturing sector, for example, which remains largely negative despite the fact that output has recently risen to its highest rate in October 2014.


This gap between perception and reality has been driven by a recent, economical evolution, with many Western countries such as the UK and the US now deriving the vast majority of their revenues from the provision of services. To many, this represents a decline in the global manufacturing sector, but this does not take into account the fact that the prevalence of production and industry varies between individual nations. In China, for example, manufacturing is the dominant driver of revenues, accounting for an estimated 46.8% of the nation’s GDP and millions of jobs.


So as we can see, manufacturing remains a key economic engine and one that generates billions of dollars on an annual basis. It also creates innumerable jobs, while showcasing incredibly durability when rebounding from periods of economic decline.


3 Lessons that Manufacturers Can Heed from the Leading Automotive Brands


No single sector embodies these strengths and the lure of the manufacturing industry better than the automotive trade, which remains at the forefront of innovation and product design techniques. For the leading brands such as Ford and Toyota, this desire to constantly break new ground is something that influences every aspect of their ventures, creating progressive workplaces which are the envy of other industries.


These brands and their approach to product innovation also offer genuine inspiration to start-ups and independent manufacturers across the globe, creating a template that drives success and long-term growth. For example: –


Understanding the Principle of Lean Manufacturing


When we think of creativity and product design, we often envisage highly engineered solutions that offer multiple options to customers. Adopting such an ethos incurs significant costs, however, which in turn can prove prohibitive for small manufacturers who are just starting out.


Fortunately, the efforts of automotive brands such as Toyota and Ford have shown us that innovative solutions and products can be created with minimal consumer options, particularly when you are looking to trial a brand new design feature or launch an original product. In fact, Toyota cultivated an entire philosophy based on this principle, which was referred to as lean manufacturing and prioritised the development of simplistic manual systems that could then be translated in technological solutions if they were effective.


Ford have also adopted this philosophy throughout its illustrious history, with lean manufacturing largely responsible for the brand’s renowned and immensely successful range of affordable cars. These models are often sold with no factory options when they are launched, as new products are designed in a single format and with one, carefully selected colour. This reduces costs incrementally across the range, without forcing the brand to compromise on the innovation or performance of each vehicle.


Clearly, lean manufacturing is something that can reduce the cost base for small or independent firms, enabling them to focus their design efforts while realising maximum profit margins.


Embracing Automation and its True Role within the Workplace


The rapid and unrelenting pace of technological advancement is something that many individuals find oppressive, particularly in humanised entities such as the job market. To some, the rise of automation and the prospect of technology eventually superseding human nature is something to fear, although much of this is borne out of uncertainty and misunderstanding.


While there is no doubt that automation has impacted negatively on some aspects of the job market, this is part of a targeted evolution that simply culls some jobs while actively creating others. In manufacturing terms, the purpose of automation is to reduce costs and improve efficiency, while making human employees more productive within increasingly expansive job roles.


This is a lesson that has long-since been heeded within the automotive sector, whether you consider the rise of automated manufacturing processes or the industry-wide development of driverless vehicles. There are other examples too, with the Stratasys brand having broken new ground by designing a car that can be manufactured by a 3D printer. Cultivated through a process known as additive manufacturing, this enables the brand to eliminate many of the heavy tools used in conventional automotive assembly and reduce their costs considerably.


Despite this, it also created new jobs roles and opportunities that are unique to the process of 3D printing. This is something that all small and independent manufacturers can learn from, as far from being something that is to be feared or detrimental to the human element of your brand, automation is an innovative tool that can be used to empower growth and employee productivity.


Creating a Culture of Bold and Innovative Thinking within your Company


While the concept of mainstream, driverless cars still has some way to go before it is fully realised, this type of innovative thinking is pivotal to the success of manufacturing businesses as a whole. It is also more prevalent in the automotive sector than anywhere else, as we can see from the sheer number of brands that are actively embracing automated technology and integrating this into their designs. Car brands have also proved particularly skilled at thinking creatively while maintaining a clearly defined value proposition, which is crucial to the viability of any commercial idea.


This is just one example from the market; of course, but the fact remains that there are many more that can offer inspiration to small and start-up manufacturers. Take Nissan’s launch of the world’s first, all-purpose electric car back in 2011, which has since inspired a number of imitators and catapulted this type of niche vehicle into the mainstream market.


Given that the success of this innovation also required creative marketing that was focused on budgetary constraints rather than the environmental benefits of the car (in order to reach a wider target audience), the value of clearly-defined and bold thinking is obvious as is its ability to drive long-term growth.


For any burgeoning manufacturer, there is a pressing need to create a culture of bold and creative thinking within their company. Product designers should be empowered to think creatively and without limitations, before these ideas are shaped and given context by strategic marketers and operators within the business. This helps to simultaneously promote and manage creative processes, enabling manufacturers to break new ground while remaining commercially successful.

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Author: Laura Cole


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