Flexible thinking leads flexible manufacturing

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Flexible manufacturing: what does it really mean for SMEs?

While the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how quickly companies can shift, creating essential life-saving PPE equipment overnight, in today’s episode we get down to the nitty-gritty stuff around flexibility.

More specifically, how SME manufacturers traditionally set up for high volume production can adapt to the varying quantities, configurations, and products that the mass customization trend is driving, without suffering the downtime and overheads often associated with shifts in demand.


To unearth just how flexible the industry really is through real-life examples, Asif Moghal talks to Adrienne Houston, Director of Eurovacuum Products, and Tom Mongan, General Manager at Subcon Laser Cutting Ltd & Vice President of the Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce.

There seems to be a misconception around the fact that manufacturing flexibility is purely process-related. A choice between robots and machine tools, followed by a factory reconfiguration based on that choice. Perhaps, that's way too limited a definition.

Manufacturing flexibility seems to be more about SMEs understanding their target market. About having a really close connection with their customers and understanding what they value the most. Is it quality, quantity, cost, sustainability? Then, SMEs should strategize a way to organize the business so it delivers that value in potential timescales that would have once been thought impossible. 

It's challenging for SMEs to adopt manufacturing flexibility if they don't have the right leadership skills and business culture. SMEs looking into adopting flexible pipelines need a broader view from leadership that allows for a better understanding of each team member’s skills. What is it being leveraged by the company, and what’s lacking? 

Have a culture that supports itself to learn and adapt. Throw human potential at the challenges and the risks your industry is facing. And get on the road of manufacturing flexibility. 

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Adrienne Houston

Adrienne is a Company Director/Owner of Eurovacuum Products Ltd. She studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nottingham and obtained a PhD in Physics. Adrienne’s company specializes in vacuum and low-pressure compressor systems, designing, installing, and servicing vacuum pumps and air blowers in several industry sectors. With over 15 years of experience, she has gained a broad knowledge that spans a wide range of applications. This is not only theoretical knowledge but also very practical.

To complement her professional work, she is a keen promoter and champion of women in engineering, diversity, and inclusion. In 2019 she was appointed by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the role of Diversity and Inclusion Visiting Professor at the University of Birmingham. The visiting professor role at the School of Engineering furthers her commitment to undergraduate education and helps to embed inclusion into engineering curricula.

Tom Mongan

Tom Mongan, President of the Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce & General Manager at the multi-award-winning company Subcon Laser Cutting Ltd based in Nuneaton.

Subcon is one of the UK’s largest and longest established companies that use 2D & 3D laser technology to manufacture parts. Tom has been involved in the manufacturing industry since 1973, having started his career as a Technical Apprentice at Alvis Ltd in Coventry, however for the last 27 years he has been involved with Subcon in the high tech world of lasers.

He is also the current chair of the C&W Chamber of Commerce North Warwickshire Branch, an Ambassador for the Made in the Midlands organization, a Fellow at the Institute of Sales & Marketing, a Top 100 manufacturing award winner, and also a Freeman of Coventry City”.