Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS) leverages the expertise of outside manufacturing engineers, outsourced production, and Just in Time (JIT) inventory management to reduce the cost and time associated with producing quality products. With the right partner, MaaS accelerates product development and transforms the processes by which organizations bring new products to market.
Companies of all sizes seek MaaS partners to help them scale in various ways. For some, the combination of production speed and variety of services draws them toward marketplace platforms. Other organizations attempt to form a deeper relationship with a MaaS partner to improve quality and consolidate logistics.
MaaS companies typically work with dozens, if not hundreds, of clients representing a broad array of industries, applications, and production methods. They apply their deep experience in production to complement the design-focused approach of OEMs, Product Designers, Product Engineers, and design firms. This results in the best of both worlds: well designed products that are efficient to manufacture and deliver.
Marketplace Manufacturing and MaaS
The Marketplace Economy has spread beyond Uber and AirBnB and into manufacturing. Manufacturing networks, such as Dassault Systemes’ 3DExperience Marketplace, pair product designers dynamically with available manufacturers based on a range of criteria, including capacity, location, and capabilities.
Such marketplaces offer many of the benefits of MaaS—reduced overhead, JIT production—but also present additional challenges. For example, reordering may lead to a different vendor making that part, which introduces risk related to quality control.
“The Marketplace model can be great for low volumes of simple parts, especially during the prototyping phase of product development,” says Jim Quinn, CEO of Plethora. “But it tends to lack true partnership with manufacturing engineers, which can offer critical value over the entire lifecycle of a product.”
Partnering with Manufacturing Engineers
An often overlooked aspect of manufacturing, MaaS partners Design Engineers with Manufacturing Engineers, offering complementary knowledge and experience that typically shortens the production process and reduces costs.
Product Designers work to create the best part for their overall project. They approach these parts with the context of how that part fits into the larger schematic of the overall product, and may not be as focused on the manufacturability of the part in question.
Manufacturing Engineers lend unique insight into how best to produce the part. Manufacturing Engineers may have a deeper knowledge of specific materials, or the capabilities of specific manufacturing processes. As such, Manufacturing Engineers are often able to suggest more efficient ways to produce a usable end part by iterating slightly on the original design.
We offer our MaaS customers a designated Manufacturing Engineer for expert guidance on machining capabilities. This personalized design experience helps ensure that our customer's design achieves the highest quality while working to ensure it is cost effective over the life of the product. —Jim Quinn, President and CEO, Plethora
Finishing offers a simplified example of how a Manufacturing Engineer can add value to a project. While a Design Engineer or Product Designer may justifiably want to create the best looking part, a Manufacturing Engineer can point out where a chamfer would add cycle time, where a narrow, flat-bottom hole would introduce the risk of a broken tool, or where a glass-smooth finish might not be necessary for a part that won’t have any faces showing in the final, assembled product.
Making such iterations on a part design may not save much in prototype quantities. In fact, updating a design may cost more than the savings realized at low quantities. But Manufacturing Engineers consider scaled production, where simple updates to the design can lead to savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Though manufacturing has made giant leaps in the last few decades in terms of efficiency and capabilities, it has come at the cost of added complexity. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, refers to this as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, blurring the lines between the physical and digital world:
The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
Specific to manufacturing, there are more ways than ever before to make a part, in more materials. With this growth comes an ever-expanding knowledgebase of capabilities, properties, specialities, and dependencies related to materials, processes, and machinery. Designing parts and manufacturing parts are two distinct skill sets.
Successful companies realize this distinction and find it more economical to outsource manufacturing rather than manage it internally. There exists real and significant costs in keeping up with continuous improvements to hardware, firmware, software, and best practices that often distracts from an organization’s ability to develop and bring to market compelling products.
MaaS shifts these costs to the manufacturer, who are better able to justify the costs due to their scale and volume. Producing high volumes of parts, spread over two or three shifts, warrants a continuous investment in the latest technologies and processes. MaaS manufacturing partners are able to spread these costs across hundreds of customers and thousands of orders.
Just In Time Production
Just In Time (JIT) inventory management produces goods as they are needed, avoiding the overhead of carrying and managing excess inventory. JIT practices deliver parts or products directly from the manufacturer to where they are needed—for assembly, for packaging— further reducing costs associated with warehousing and transporting excess inventory.
JIT requires less working capital, because organizations only obtain inventory as needed. JIT reduces risk associated with inventories becoming obsolete. JIT offers an environmentally conscious method of manufacturing. This type of lean manufacturing keeps production runs short leaving less stock on hand and more funds to invest elsewhere.
Toyota has embraced JIT manufacturing for years. Toyota produces vehicles based on orders it receives from its dealerships. For each vehicle, only the necessary supplies ordered and sent from the supply chain. According to Toyota’s website:
Use of JIT within the Toyota Production System means that individual cars can be built to order and that every component has to fit perfectly the first time because there are no alternatives available.
Extending MaaS Relationships
Today, MaaS partnerships are evolving well beyond just contract manufacturing. MaaS manufacturers are finding new opportunities to serve their clients. Designated resources within the manufacturer may help with other aspects of production, such as sourcing, logistics, assembly, and planning.
“Our clients have asked us to manage production through other vendors, and we’re happy to do it,” says Sean Cardenas, VP of Sales at Plethora. “It makes sense for us because our manufacturing engineers gain a deeper understanding of our clients’ overall needs, and in turn we’re able to offer more valuable suggestions and feedback that save our clients time and money.”