Microfactories: The Future of Manufacturing or Just a Fad?



automated-work-cell.jpgRecently, manufacturers have been tasked with managing new challenges related to supply chains and talent shortages in addition to dealing with long-standing problems like optimizing efficiency and profitability. For some, an answer to these challenges can be found in microfactories.

Originally developed in 1990, microfactories have surged in popularity in recent years due to the special capabilities and features they offer. In contrast to traditional manufacturing, which involves one large factory producing mass quantities to push to the market, microfactories are small to medium-scale, highly automated units that produce high mix, low volume products made to order.

On the surface it’s clear how these two types of manufacturing differ – but for a more in-depth comparison, read on to learn more about the five main benefits provided by microfactories.

  • Less labor is required. Due to the smaller scale of microfactories, smaller teams are required in production. This is especially beneficial now, as most manufacturers struggle to find enough workers to fill open positions in their facilities. Additionally, with workers more focused and involved in the process, engagement improves – leading to an increase in productivity as well.
  • Expenses are lower overall. By nature, microfactories require less space, energy, raw material and labor – all of which contribute to significantly lower operating expenses. This also means microfactories require less initial investment and generate a quicker return relative to full-scale factories.
  • Turnaround time is faster and stock is minimized. Microfactories operate using a “pull” model rather than “push.” This means everything is made to order based on customized specifications, rather than producing mass amounts then pushing the product onto the market. With a changing market that now demands faster, more customized products, microfactories provide an effective method for meeting demand while maximizing efficiency and minimizing inventory.
  • Opportunity for innovation is higher. Microfactories rely on highly automated processes, making them incredibly versatile and adaptable. This makes it more possible for manufacturers to incorporate advanced manufacturing technologies – such as automation, Augmented Reality (AR) or software – directly into the equipment to continue to optimize processes over time.
  • Supply chain and distribution challenges are nearly eliminated. Some microfactories are now capable of full production, eliminating the need to outsource. This solves many issues related to supply chain and distribution, in addition to making reshoring more possible. Reshoring and local sourcing are big topics in the news these days with the recent release of the 100-Day Supply Chain Review. A traditional manufacturer could establish a modular microfactory (set up within a day or two) using available shop floor space as a mechanism to test the viability of reshoring either all or portions of current offshore production.

Even with the many promising benefits and capabilities provided by microfactories, this doesn’t mean traditional factories will be replaced forever. Microfactories serve to complement larger factories as they each fill different needs. While high volume, low mix manufacturing still works best in the traditional factory setting, those who produce more customized products in smaller quantities could benefit in many ways by implementing a microfactory.

Ask how The Center’s experts can help your company reach its full potential by contacting us at inquiry@the-center.org or learn more about our services here.

Whether your company is well into its Industry 4.0 journey or just getting started, The Center’s experts can help ensure you achieve the maximum return on all investments. To assist Michigan’s manufacturers with understanding and adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, The Center has partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Automation Alley to drive awareness of the many uses and benefits of these innovations. From conducting an initial Technology Opportunity Assessment to identifying and applying relevant technologies, The Center guides manufacturers through technological implementations in a way that makes sense for their businesses.


McCarter_R-web.jpgRebekah McCarter, Lead Supplier Scout
Having spent more than 20 years with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, Rebekah views her fundamental responsibility as head cheerleader and advocate on behalf of Michigan’s manufacturing community. Officially, Rebekah is the Lead Supplier Scout for Michigan, part of a national program that effectively identifies domestic suppliers that meet the specifications of OEMs and other U.S. manufacturers, with a special focus on connecting Michigan companies with other Michigan companies. If you are looking to mitigate risk in your supply chain, transition to more local sourcing of raw materials or augment your minority suppliers, The Center can help. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, Reshoring, Supply Chain