Get agile for a rapid response to markets

Study finds strategic way of facing changes to supply chain

By David Fowler

Research into supply chain infrastructure and logistics is critical if UK firms are to respond to rapidly changing markets, claims a study of agile manufacturing in the US.

Agile manufacturing – which allows for a rapid and balanced response to predictable and unpredictable market conditions – is driven by structural changes in industrial supply chains.

The agility mission to the US, made up of industrialists and academics, was organised by the Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology and funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. Agile manufacturing has been encouraged in the US by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Professor Nabil Gindy of Nottingham University’s department of manufacturing engineering, said that the group recommended Europe-wide research into methods and tools for:

* Reducing product development cycle time in the extended supply chain;

* Integration, design and management of extended supply chains;

* Design, operation and control of flexible and reconfigurable manufacturing systems;

* Design and control of manufacturing processes to improve quality.

The report concludes that lean manufacturing is essentially a tactical response and agile manufacturing is more strategic.

The dividing line between the two is not always clear, but sometimes the philosophies conflict.