Disruption in manufacturing: Challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs

Disruption in manufacturing: Challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs

Disruption is a deceptive notion. It seems all-encompassing.Its effect on the world is felt every time you travel, go for a run or read the news. The reason that disruption feels so complete, is because those companies who have changed the game (think Uber and Airbnb) have done so in such a radical way that it’s hard to imagine how things were before it.

Yet the truth is that the pace of disruption varies widely in every industry in every country. This, combined with ever-new technology means that there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs cropping up all the time.

An industry that is particularly ripe with opportunity for budding entrepreneurs is manufacturing. Manufacturing has arrived at a critical point in terms of new technology and its cultural state. The companies that go forward are the ones that strategically adopt new technologies to become more productive and competitive. Below we examine 2 of the most exciting developments in manufacturing and how entrepreneurs can leverage them.

3D printing

When the Founder and CEO of Fabricastl, Brian Palacios first encountered 3D printing, he found it magical:

‘My mind was blown by the technology: an almost infinite amount of shapes can be “grown,” layer by layer, just by using a printer. This is going to be disruptive, I knew. It would empower entrepreneurs, freeing them from the constraints of traditional manufacturing.’

And he is right. The technology has now developed to a level where we are seeing the aviation, healthcare and retail industries embrace it.  In fact Gartner predicts that medical printing could be mainstream in the next few years.

However, it’s not as simple as buying a 3D printer from Officeworks and changing the supply model. 3D printing is expensive, dangerous and requires a high level of expertise. It took Palacios a few years to understand where the gaps in the market could be and how to build that into a profitable idea. He suggests leveraging ‘the freedoms inherent in 3D printing’ (agile designs, highly customised products, no need for inventory) to create a product or service and go from there. For example, Shapeways is a company that makes small, simple tailored items such as jewellery, accessories and homewares.

If you apply this thinking to manufacturing, there is a lot of opportunity to disrupt the current models. From agile prototyping to alleviating the need for inventory and warehousing, to being able to customise and quickly replace machine parts, the possibilities are very exciting.

Business Intelligence

Data will be the lifeblood of smart business operations, because the potential insights they deliver can optimise organisational practices, prevent disaster and uncover relationships in processes that are otherwise invisible to the human eye.

The insights that data can deliver, are true across all industries, but are particularly exciting in manufacturing for three reasons:

  1. Manufacturing machinery produces a staggering amount of data.
  2. The technology is becoming more agile and adaptable.
  3. There hasn’t been widespread adaption of business intelligence systems in manufacturing yet.

In fact, according to Datanami, manufacturing is in ‘the perfect storm for modernisation’. Manufacturing companies are after real insights that will give them the competitive edge. And given how mobile and visually clear the analytics are becoming, it’s no longer just business analysts that can derive meaning from the data. In fact, as in other industries, businesses are demanding more from their data sets. Therefore, there is a real opportunity for data start-ups to leverage this drive for businesses to unpack insights about their operations. If you are going down this road, you need to consider how you can present an offering that is:

  • Mobile
  • Scalable
  • Compatible with legacy equipment
  • Superior in visual analytics

Then you will also be able to ensure that your product will not just deliver real-time insights, but can grow and evolve with the business.

Key takeaways

To take advantage of the wave of disruption in manufacturing, would-be entrepreneurs need to do three things:

  • Brainstorm the problems. What prevents people from doing their jobs or living their #bestlives. How could the product or service be more functional?
  • Examine what the capabilities of the technology are and determine what could be gained by applying them to your industry.
  • Anticipate where the technology is heading and what the new competitive forces may be, including what cultural or economic factors may affect the industry in the next few years.

We hope that this article has given you some great ideas on how to take advantage of an industry in the midst of disruption. If you’d like some more tips on how to turn your great idea into a business opportunity, then you need to read our guide on how to launch a start-up today.

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