Managing international manufacturing networks

Where do the next battles stand for multinational manufacturing firms? The annual Cambridge International Manufacturing Symposium provides some answers.

Dr. Jagjit S. Srai, Head of Centre International Manufacturing at Cambridge University, 11-9-2014
Dr. Jagjit S. Srai, Head of CIM at Cambridge University, 11-9-2014

It is the eighteenth time that the Centre for International Manufacturing at Cambridge University organizes its symposium on international manufacturing. As usual, this two-day event offers a mix of industry and academic speakers — designed to keep academics relevant and industry up to date. The theme this time is “Capturing value from global networks”.

The challenge: Managing complexity

Unilever, TATA, Caterpillar, Grundfos, Innocent Drinks, Sanofi-Genzyme and Lockheed Martin. This diverse group of manufacturing multinationals shared their current challenges, and strategies used to cope with them. Together they filled a long list of present and future challenges; far too many to describe all in detail here. But, if there was one common theme across all the industry presentations, it has to be “managing complexity”.

The world is rapidly changing at micro and macro levels. Innovations in technology lead to new forms of manufacturing, product deliveries and after-sales services. Consumers require more customized and sophisticated products and service. Societal developments, economics, trade barriers, taxes s and global geopolitics create new opportunities and threats for global manufacturers. Speed is accelerating and companies pursue growth in volume and geographical dispersion. Clearly, managing these global manufacturing networks is not getting any easier.

The remedy: Complexity-reducing models and frameworks

If managing complexity is the challenge, then how can corporate managers deal with it? Fortunately, they are not left alone in a world of mere chaos. Practitioners and researchers have developed a range of models and frameworks that help reduce the complexity. The symposium highlighted a few of many models available; for example, risk radar models used by Lockheed Martin, offshoring/re-shoring decision calculations used by Caterpillar, the SCOR model used by Unilever, manufacturing footprint decision models used by Grundfos, continuous improvement programs in Innocent Drinks, and so on and so on.

Many models and frameworks like these have been developed during the last decades, and practitioners should clearly take advantage from them.  Corporate managers can use them, strategically and continuously, to sort, differentiate, focus and standardize their global production networks.

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