The manufacturing process today is much more complicated than ever before, as companies are challenged to keep pace with the global speed of business, a global marketplace and a much more geographically diverse supply chain.
A real challenge for manufacturers is how to manage this complexity in a way that doesn’t over-complicate the process.
A company that has mastered this challenge is Saint-Gobain, which was recently honored for high achievements in data and integration mastery (see story here). Saint-Gobain is a European glass manufacturer with roots that go back to King Louis XIV. Over the company’s three and half century history, it has seen all sorts of changes to product, demand, the business environment and just about everything else. Today, instead of furnishing palaces with elaborate mirrors and stained glass windows, the Company has multiple business lines, including its latest push on building new low energy materials that will be used in buildings of the future.
To put things in perspective, Saint-Gobain is a $52 billion player in the glass industry, and employs 190,000 people across 65 countries. This means there are a lot of moving parts, making it very challenging to do things like manage production, track orders and manage inventory in a way that runs alongside the business and works with it, rather than add new layers of complexity.
Interestingly, in the glass business, when you start a furnace it generally runs continuously for about 15 years – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, the underlying technology that manages production must be just as continuous as the production environment itself with no bumps or hiccups along the way.
A window into how they did it…
We worked with Saint-Gobain to help standardize their production across 44 worldwide sites, which so far has improved not only global standardization, but also quality and adaptability within mixed-use production environments. Even though their business is highly diverse, it’s still important to centralize and standardize the flow of information in a way that links production to the business.
This includes recognizing that customers are worldwide, and knowing that you need a global IT system to support your customer network and provide all of the right information that’s needed to do business. This means having a clear vision of material and production costs, operations and inventory at any given time.
Lessons from King Louis XIV…
When King Louis XIV founded their predecessor business in 1665, operations were much different. Clearly, the company has learned how to adapt over the centuries to remain a viable industry leader. Here are three steps Saint-Gobain has implemented to help bring their manufacturing operations into the 21st century.
- Keep up with the global speed of business – Managers need information, delivered in real-time, relative to key indicators involving cost, materials and production, in order to close deals. Business processes must be efficiently managed and fully integrated with production to be competitive despite the increased complexity of today’s markets.
- Support Innovation – Today’s product does not guarantee tomorrow’s success. Saint-Gobain has constantly reinvented its business to keep up with changing times; they’ve invested in their technology infrastructure to support continuous innovation. The way new products are designed and introduced to the market has everything to do with connecting ideas to the plant level.
- Stay Close to the Customer – Production is a two-way street. A business needs to change and adapt to the needs of its customers, which means your underlying manufacturing execution systems must be sufficiently flexible and adaptable to change with the market without being overly complicated, so users can be productive.
How effectively have you addressed complexity in your business? Given today’s global marketplace and supply chains, it is unlikely manufacturing operations will ever be simple again – complexity is now a given. Industry leaders understand how to effectively manage their complexity while still remaining agile. How flexible are you in meeting new business opportunities and customer requirements, while at the same time reducing complexity?