When most people think about manufacturing, they picture a mass production facility specializing in a specific product or product family. High-mix, low-volume manufacturing (HMLV)—or make-to-order manufacturing—is a very different kind of operation. These manufacturers make a large variety of products in small quantities for many different customers. This type of manufacturing is ideal for unique and complex products with specific quality requirements.
If you’ve worked in a HMLV environment, you know how dynamic it can be. Parts, processes, and delivery dates can change from one day to the next, requiring flexible scheduling and frequent changeovers.
This type of manufacturing has its advantages. Shops have the flexibility to customize and make changes, don’t have to keep much inventory, and can be more responsive to their customers. However, it’s a volatile business. High-mix, low-volume manufacturers face significant challenges, but having reliable suppliers and quality materials can mitigate some of the risks.
Challenges in High-Mix, Low-Volume Manufacturing
All manufacturing operations must prioritize quality, delivery, and cost. High-mix, low-volume manufacturing is no different, and it involves some unique difficulties such as quality, on-time delivery, and cost and waste.
Low-mix manufacturers have one or two major processes to control, so quality is relatively straightforward. Maintaining quality in HMLV manufacturing is much more difficult. A variety of different processes run simultaneously, and each one must be studied and controlled to ensure quality output. Every new part or configuration presents new quality risks. Because multiple parts might need to run on the same equipment, changeovers happen frequently, creating more opportunities for error.
More products also mean more raw materials and work in progress (WIP) on the shop floor. HMLV shops process a wide variety of raw materials and components, so they must take measures to keep similar materials segregated. Likewise, WIP from multiple jobs on the manufacturing floor increases the potential for quality issues—unfinished parts and materials are susceptible to misplacement and misidentification.
With many different customers, orders, and processes, high-mix, low-volume manufacturing requires complex planning to balance the different production timelines. The margin for error is slim.
There is often more potential for bottlenecks to occur when there are more processes that are operating simultaneously. Common bottlenecks take place at changeovers and in shared equipment. Production planners must schedule jobs carefully to keep WIP from different processes from piling up, waiting on the same equipment.
As important as timing is in HMLV manufacturing, it is not easy to control. Manufacturers can optimize their processes to increase throughput and gain significant time savings. This is less effective in high-mix, low-volume manufacturing, where every process is different. It may not even be worth the time and resources to optimize throughput for smaller, temporary processes.
Cost and Waste
Quality and on-time delivery don’t mean much if you can’t meet your bottom line. Inefficiency and waste are the enemies of good manufacturing and can be especially devastating to high-mix, low-volume operations.
Reducing waste usually brings only a small improvement per unit. This can be effective in high-volume manufacturing, where small improvements add up over large quantities, but the returns are lower for low volume operations. For small production runs, the cost of improving the process may nullify the savings the improvements create.
Manufacturers must focus on error-proofing their processes rather than optimizing them. Any error or unpredicted issue can upset the balance of multiple jobs and deadlines and increase costs. These risks can be mitigated by minimizing specialized tooling, setup time, and complexity during initial process development.
Local Supply of Metals for High-Mix, Low-Volume Manufacturing
Using a local metal supplier has some advantages that can reduce some of the risks associated with HMLV manufacturing, such as fast and convenient delivery of affordable quality metals.
Fast, Convenient Delivery
There are plenty of potential manufacturing risks, but the supply chain doesn’t need to be one of them. Having a reliable local metal supplier lets you plan production schedules with confidence.
Industrial Metal Service keeps a large, constantly expanding selection of metals in stock and delivers anywhere in the U.S. We offer same-day or next-day delivery for local customers, or you are welcome to pick up your order at our San Jose warehouse.
Certified, Verified Metals
When quality goes in, quality comes out. HMLV manufacturers can reduce quality risks by using the best materials for the job. When you use certified, verified metals, you don’t just ensure the quality of your product—you improve operations by reducing processing time and preventing defects.At Industrial Metal Service, we provide mill test reports (MTRs) for metals sourced from U.S. mills. For our metal remnants, we use Thermo Fisher Scientific XRF analyzers to verify the composition and quality. Either way, when you purchase metal from us, you know exactly what you’re getting.
We Are Your Full-Service Metal Supply Company
With over two decades of experience supplying a wide range of metal stock to high-mix, low-volume manufacturing customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, Industrial Metal Service has earned a reputation as a reliable metal supplier. We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss your specific metal supply needs. Give us a call and we’ll get you what you need—fast.Contact Us