The term “agile” is often used to describe the composable approach to process management, which, in the case of manufacturing, refers to a method that leverages flexibility, bottom-up innovation, and augmentation in order to adapt, through an iterative process, to changing conditions.

With manufacturing representing around 16% of the world’s GDP and a rapidly evolving and disruptive environment driving businesses to become resilient, it’s no surprise that digital transformation is now the number one area for supply chain initiative funding. In fact, Gartner’s 2020 Supply Chain Technology User Wants and Needs Survey reported that 96% of supply chain leaders said they either have invested, or plan on investing, in cyber-physical automation in warehousing and manufacturing operations over the next three years.

Digital initiatives bolster the implementation of agile manufacturing, which is based on the following fundamental values.

Flexibility:

The rise of global disruptions, frequent regulations escalating in severity, and increasingly complex customer demands for higher quality, product customization, faster delivery, and cheaper production are requiring manufacturers to become flexible if they want to remain competitive.

Rigid, costly legacy systems that are slow to respond to changing economic and environmental changes hinder a manufacturer’s growth in the market. With agile implementation, however, organizations save on costs because teams can build pilots as they go, creating solutions to custom problems rather than having to revamp entire monolithic systems. Take equipment, for example, where a modular setup enables frontline operators to get creative with their assembly stations, such as putting it on wheels to better suit the needs of the process.

Traditional MES legacy systems, in contrast, which are inherently designed to last, not change, are usually too laborious and costly to maintain and update, especially when it comes to building custom software for specific uses.

Rapid iteration:

Due to our global interconnectedness, problems arising from local political events, economic crises, and environmental disasters tend to be amplified and transmitted throughout the global value chain. As we continue to experience unpredictable and rapid changes throughout the supply chain, successful companies will be those that can leverage agile to capitalize on uncertainty, consequently achieving a competitive advantage.

Agile revolutionized the software engineering industry and manufacturers are following suit, embracing the digital transformation of their operations to promote rapid iteration and innovation. No-code platforms encourage innovation by streamlining approvals, removing unnecessary barriers, promoting decentralized decision-making, and empowering engineers and operators with autonomy and enhanced security systems, resulting in faster time-to-market.

Using industry 4.0 technologies with an agile approach allows manufacturers to identify root cause of defective products sooner. For instance, frontline operators can use computer vision to identify and localize issues at every step of the production process before the product reaches its end, rather than performing root cause analysis over an extended period of time, which significantly hinders the ability to effectively resolve problems.

Bottom-up:

The Agile Manifesto set out to improve the ways in which work was developed, mainly by highly valuing interactions between individuals along with team collaboration, and incorporating customer feedback into the product or service development process.

Agile’s bottom-up approach removes the data silos and other barriers for faster data sharing and end-to-end accountability among teams, versus bureaucratic approval structures that end up delaying the decision-making process.

Agile manufacturing disrupts the traditional top-down hierarchy with a bottom-up approach that promotes action, accountability, and flexibility. With a decentralized structure and more cross-functional work, decisions can be made faster and teams can rapidly iterate, learn, and optimize.

Augmented worker:

While automation is meant to maximize worker safety and productivity, it’s not a stand-alone solution to digital transformation, because teams still need to analyze the data and derive meaningful insights from it. Industry 4.0 technologies augment frontline workers by enabling them to build custom apps and solutions to more complex problems and empowering them to make autonomous decisions.

In a traditional manufacturing setting, reliance on IT departments or vendors drives high costs and lengthy retraining time for workers, which is exacerbated by skills gaps and high performance variability resulting from low retention rates. As a result, workers are inflexible, on-boarding is inconsistent, and new process or equipment ramp-up is slow.

Conversely, an agile approach enables operators to leverage industry 4.0 technologies that fully integrate into their workflows, providing a connected infrastructure that rises to the complexity of their work, with a friendly user interface that appeals to a younger, tech-savvier workforce. No-code platforms help engineers to develop technical solutions to business problems without relying on IT, which allows them to focus their strengths on creating more value for their organization.


According to Becoming Composable: A Gartner Trend Insight Report, by 2024, 20% of Global 2000 CEOs will report an increased appetite for risk and improved resilience deriving from modular business redesign, while the mantra for new SaaS will be “composable API-first and API-only,” relegating traditional SaaS vendors as “legacy.”

Agile manufacturing improves cross-functional collaboration, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction. With an agile or composable approach, small pilots can be deployed at a time, allowing teams to make multiple low-stakes decisions tailored at addressing individual issues, rather than a big, high-stakes decision that may be costly, lengthy, or arduous to implement. Therefore, an agile approach is the solution for frontline operations teams that need to mitigate risk and boost efficiency, with ROI seen within days or weeks instead of months down the line.

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