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Small Business guide to manufacturing processes


While many people assume that small businesses are often not associated with manufacturing, in the U.S. small manufacturers can be found in all fifty states. Organizations such as the American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC) exist solely to promote small manufacturers and to lobby government to assist with legislation and federal programs.

Small manufacturers offer specialized and personalized products that larger manufacturers cannot make profitably. Niche manufacturing by small manufacturers can allow them to operate in areas that have little or no competition from larger companies.

Owning a small manufacturing company does not necessarily mean that you have to be experienced in all aspects of the process, for example sales, shipping, procurement and exporting. There are many supporting businesses that offer professional services that can assist in accounting, marketing, purchasing and exporting. The availability of business software and internet services allows the small business owner to use the same business processes that are used at much larger companies. This allows the small manufacturer to concentrate on the production of quality items that are expected and required by their customers.

When small businesses are involved in manufacturing, there can be a number of manufacturing methods that are employed. These methods are known as flexible, continuous, intermittent and custom manufacturing.

  • Flexible Manufacturing-This type of manufacturing is extremely suitable for most small manufacturer. Flexible manufacturing uses equipment that is controlled by a number of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) computers. This is an interesting type of production since it relies more on robotic cells than manufacturing personnel which allows the business owner to change the products manufactured to react to customer or market needs. The use of automation produces a product that is manufactured to highly precise specifications which in turn improves the quality of the product. The major disadvantage (and some say only) of this type of manufacturing is the high initial cost of the manufacturing equipment.
  • Continuous Manufacturing-When small businesses manufacturer a single product, then continuous manufacturing is a method that most companies choose to use. The process is basically an assembly line that produces a single finished product rather than a number of products or products that are made specifically for a customer order. The assembly line is made up of a number of work stations or work centers where individual operations are made on the product as it passes along the line. This manufacturing method is ideal for small businesses that do not manufacture items that can be customized. This type of process allows every finished good that is produced to be sold to any customer without modification.
  • Intermittent Manufacturing-If a small business is going to manufacture products that are of a similar type; they can adopt an intermittent manufacturing process. Businesses that manufacture items that are similar in nature, but have variations, are the most suitable for intermittent manufacturing. For example a company that only manufacturers tires for bicycles will sell tires that are of different sizes to fit a variety of bicycle wheels. Businesses will manufacture batches of the same product depending on demand and then will manufacture a batch of the same or another type of product. This type of manufacturing is good for products, which are heavily based on fluctuating demand.
  • Custom Manufacturing-This is a method that is used by a large number of small businesses. This method allows business owners to fully customize their finished product to the exact requirements of the customer. Many items can only be manufactured in this method due to their complexity or the skills that are required in manufacture cannot be replicated by a machine. Small business owners that work alone will often specialize in items that are made using custom manufacturing.

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