What manufacturing can learn from agile software techniques

What if there were a way to speed up the manufacturing and hardware design process? Here, we find out.

One of the biggest challenges in manufacturing is the lead time to produce a new hardware product. Even a simple tool can take as long as six months between design and production. What if there were a way to speed up the manufacturing and hardware design process? By using Agile development techniques, this may now be possible.

What is Agile Software Development?

Agile Software Development has transformed the way that companies think about developing new applications. Developed in the early 1990’s, Agile is a revolutionary approach under which the solutions and requirements for a new application evolve. The product development work is broken down into small increments, which minimises the amount of upfront planning and design.

The Agile Manifesto was released in 2001, and since then the principles of this method have been used by thousands of firms around the world to more efficiently develop various software solutions. Before Agile, much of development was stifled by hierarchical bureaucracy. This system breaks down those barriers by encouraging collaboration among cross-functional teams that often include the end user.

Agile as catalyst in today’s rapidly changing world of manufacturing

Product development isn’t the same today as it was even a decade ago. Now that the U.S. is looking at bringing many of their factories home from abroad, they will need to compete on a global scale. There is a new group of technologies – artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, and 3D printing – that are sparking innovation in the manufacturing sector. The companies who will come out on top are those who can quickly respond to their customer’s needs and the desires of the market – so, the most ‘agile’ among the group.

The companies that have been most successful with Agile are those who implement both its practices and values. In practice, Agile teams often use a framework called ‘Scrum’. Designing in Scrum involves working in short cycles in small teams that report to the customer, not management. The team makes decisions about work processes and goals.

Scrum relies on certain Agile values, such as placing the customer before a contract and working the design ahead of overdoing documentation. When the principles and values are combined, the results in both software design and manufacturing have been spectacular.

Using Agile in hardware innovation and manufacturing

One of the biggest roadblocks to innovation has been the inability to unify new software development with hardware. Now that Agile allows software to be developed more quickly, it doesn’t seem to match up with the traditional but sluggish Waterfall method of developing hardware. This is why some have taken the concept a step further and applied Agile to hardware development – successfully.

Take Wikispeed as a perfect example. This US-based auto manufacturer uses Agile as one of its development techniques. Founder Joe Justice was a former software consultant that had been working in Agile software development using the Scrum process since its inception. He decided to use the same techniques to build a car. The company’s development cycle is just seven days, and they were able to build a fully-functional, low-consumption, road-legal car in just three months using the Agile method.

While there are some obvious differences between software and hardware development, there are enough similarities in the creative process to give Agile serious consideration for manufacturing design. To remain competitive, development teams need to get usable products to market faster, and they must be ones that the customers will love. Agile hardware development is a design process that will allow a company to accomplish these goals.

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