Microfactories are not just pint-sized factories. In fact, Microfactories require a reconsideration of each step in the design-procurement-manufacturing process and can enable an entirely new go-to-market.
Microfactories are built for small batch size production using flexible automation to enable a wide range of manufacturing tasks. Typically, these factories are architected with modularity in mind to scale up when larger production demand is needed. To successfully compete with large volume factories, microfactories require less energy, less material, less space, lower distribution costs and less or nearly no manual labor. Since the development of the first microfactory in 1990, technological advancements have brought the concept to multiple commercial manufacturing processes.
Reshoring, microfactories and flexible automation have all recently received buzz as potential paths for the future of manufacturing. As reshoring or near-shoring continues to gain interest in an attempt to shorten supply chains, a reevaluation of the optimal size and features of the modern factory is necessary.
Factory optimization has historically been driven by maximizing scale and reducing product variety to increase efficiency and yield. This direction demands ever increasing volumes to reduce per unit costs. By driving down per unit costs companies can then grab greater market share and increase sales margins. Thus, the rich get richer by delivering more of the same.
Today’s consumers are beginning to push back. They want differentiated products at reasonable prices and refuse to buy into one-size-fits-all product strategies of the past. From a manufacturing perspective this leads to smaller batch sizes that can be run on the same lines or lines that can quickly change over to other or new production processes can create flexibility while reducing production costs. Moving forward manufacturers require nimble solutions at reasonable cost points to continue to win greater market share.
At Launchpad, we see the opportunity that efficient small batch sized production can offer a variety of markets from consumer to biotechnology. We envision a solution where factories act as “automated systems of systems,” capable of self-programming robots on the factory floor to gracefully reconfigure to manufacture new product designs. Today automation depends on custom hardware and software to execute even the most remedial tasks. In the future, robots and factories will have the flexibility to autonomously respond to change using intelligence.