In her presentation, Dr. Gupta explained that low-volume manufacturing is used for prototyping, for complex or customized products, and for high-mix, low-volume production. It typically needs short product development and prototyping times, and it must be flexible (so that multiple product designs can use the same tooling and equipment) and agile (so that process flow can switch among different product designs).
During his presentation, Mr. Schneider, Key Tech, was also asked for his definition of low-volume production. He responded that he considers a project to be low volume when nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs become a large portion of the overall product cost. He said that another criterion for defining the low-volume manufacturing regime is when a standard manufacturer is unwilling to partner with Key Tech to make a product because it is not economically feasible for the standard manufacturer.
The workshop discussion also considered variable-rate manufacturing and high-mix manufacturing, both aspects of low-volume manufacturing. Workshop participants pointed out that the Department of Defense (DOD) is interested in rate-independent production more than in low-volume production. Participants noted that the workshop was in fact more focused on responding to the needs of variable demand than to the needs of low volume. A participant stated that DOD would like to see the same cost per unit rather than having the costs scale dramatically depending upon the production volume. In other words, efficient, cost-effective, variable-rate production is a key driver for DOD. It was also noted that there is a need for a multiskilled workforce that could handle this type of flexibility. Having such a workforce is important to address high mix in a cost-effective, viable manner.
In the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation of Mr. Ritchie, of the Tempus Institute, Dr. Latiff, of Latiff Associates, commented that the discussion of quick-response manufacturing (QRM) seemed to focus on efficient manufacturing, not variable-rate or low-volume manufacturing. He asked how this fits into the framework of low-volume manufacturing. Mr. Ritchie explained that one-off manufacturing needs to be efficient, in terms of controlling total time.
One of the challenges associated with low-volume production is that it typically involves high cost. Several of the speakers addressed various ways to mitigate costs. Mr. Ritchie’s talk focused extensively on how QRM focuses on reducing total lead time, which reduces total cost. He explained that QRM is a strategy that introduces specific techniques to reduce total lead time, not just eliminate direct cost. He said that QRM concepts apply throughout the enterprise, with most of the improvement in time savings among up-front office applications. To actually reduce cost