In this part of @AuManufacturing’s Australia’s niche champions series, Simon Dawson shares three three points consistently raised in conversations with SMEs, each worth considering in terms of successful niche manufacturing.
Converting a product idea into a sustainable business is never an easy task, especially in these volatile times. Economic uncertainty, technological disruptions and changing customer expectations are constantly shifting the goal posts.
Reflecting on this from a niche manufacturers perspective, I am reminded of a question one of my mentors once asked me. “Just because you’ve found a niche in the market, are you sure there is a market in that niche?” The question sums up perfectly why niche manufacturers need to be continuously thinking about how their product and service innovations are able (or not) to deliver value for their customers.
With futuremap®, IMCRC has developed a business diagnostic tool that encourages manufacturers to reflect on exactly that – to identify opportunities to adopt new technologies and business models and consider how those will impact their business and their market.
By raising questions in key areas of industrial and advanced manufacturing competitiveness such as leadership, collaboration, and innovation, futuremap offers manufacturers unique insights into their operation. As part of an interactive workshop or in a facilitated one-on-one discussion, they have the opportunity to assess and map their current business capabilities as well as their future aspirations.
Since joining IMCRC as Director of Industrial Transformation earlier this year, I have guided numerous manufacturing SMEs through futuremap. In conversations with these businesses afterwards, three points are consistently raised. And, when we think about niche manufacturing these are perhaps even more relevant.
They retain a clear focus on their customers.
They take a customer-centric approach to manufacturing. They understand how to create value for their customers, not just on a product level but across the entire customer value chain. Even before initiating the design process for a new product, for example, they know how many of their customers and potential prospects would be interested in the application and how it can be used effectively within their operation.
By establishing strong relationships with their customers and making them the focal point of their business processes from pre-production (design, R&D) to post-production (after-sales services), these manufacturers are adding value which allows them to maintain and strengthen their competitive advantage. (Note: This is perfectly illustrated in the “Smiling curve”, CSIRO: Advanced Manufacturing Roadmap)
They prioritise innovation
To stay ahead in a complex and evolving economic landscape, niche manufacturers all seem to agree on the importance of innovation. They are proactive, willing to explore ideas and deploy new innovations within their operations early on. By doing so they not only ensure their business growth but also seem to take the whole niche forward rather than assuming the niche will remain as is. Importantly, as their resources are often limited, they understand they can only do so much of this on their own. In order to keep bringing innovation to their niche on a potentially limited budget, they seek out business connections and research collaborations. IMCRC’s 30+ co-funded research projects are evidence of driven manufacturing businesses that seek fresh perspective and insights to fast-track innovation to expand their market position.
They invest in new technologies
New technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, additive manufacturing, robots, and sensors have taken over the industrial world and disrupted traditional manufacturing business models. Yet, they have also created an abundance of new opportunities, providing manufacturers the means to drive and deliver value for their customers and the broader ecosystem. By taking a strategic approach and adopting smart technologies that help them improve core manufacturing processes, for instance, through data analytics or automation, niche manufacturers can be more flexible in their response to changing market requirements.
Yet above all, these manufacturing businesses have passionate business leaders at the helm, determined to transform their manufacturing operation. They understand the need to create opportunities for innovation in all areas of their business and this behaviour is encouraged in their teams. They proactively invest in emerging technology and business models, remain determined in driving ideas through to execution, converting ideas into sustainable business benefits. This can be a long journey. It requires vision, determination, and perseverance. At IMCRC, we are proud of our role working with many of those leaders, helping them to find the right industry connections and research partners, supporting them in delivering research-led innovation in manufacturing products, processes and services, and ultimately strengthening their niche.
Simon Dawson is the Director of Industrial Transformation, IMCRC
@AuManufacturing’s Australia’s niche champions series is brought to you with the support of the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre, and SMC Corporation.
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