In his 1993 book The Post Capitalist Society longtime management guru Peter Drucker of Claremont Graduate University (and for this writer’s money, the greatest and most innovative management thinker ever) described what he saw as the coming shift from the knowledge worker to the “knowledges” worker. His point was that companies were being created to make all available knowledge as productive as possible. Drucker argued for “decentralized organizations” that were built for continuous change, composed largely of equals who were focused on innovation – in things like processes, tools and really, all work related efforts. His then unconventional thinking has become the standard for business today.
In 1987, Taiichi Ohno in his book Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, told the world that the goal of “just in time” (JIT) was, simply, the elimination of waste. He also stated his opinion that the Toyota Production System was more than a production system – it was a management system.
These two operational touchpoints were brought together in a recent article by John Collins, President of Sustainable Solutions and an APICS CFPIM in the current issue of APICS Magazine (Sep/Oct 2015) in which he asks whether perhaps today’s newest technological advances – he names 3D printing as an example (also known as “additive manufacturing”) – are now making it possible to seriously consider mass customization.
Collins points out that “there are many pros and cons inherent in the strategic and operational choices associated with mass production” (including make to stock, just in time, sequence assembly, configurators, job shop and customized project design). These methods have long had to deal with trade-offs including the ability to forecast demand, the customer’s desire for customization, and the volume of products that can be efficiently delivered. Thus, he notes, mass customization is viewed with suspicion as it “attempts to overcome these inherent compromises by producing a high volume of customized products offered to customers at near-mass-production prices.”
And so it is that he quotes Drucker and Ohno in reminding us that we have been challenged to confront such “traditional principles” for many decades now. The times continue to change. Today’s additive manufacturing, which makes 3D solid objects from a digital file by adding continuous layers of material (plastic being only the best-known, but not the only, example), forces us to change our thinking. Today, it is actually possible to construct buildings with this new technology. A Dutch company, Collins notes, is building a pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam, on-site – over a canal! – exclusively with 3D printers.
Once again, change is in the air. Drucker and Ohno would certainly approve. And they would probably remind us that companies need to make production and operational choices in keeping with this new and burgeoning demand for mass customizations, 3D printing and today’s new range of digitally-driven manufacturing.