Companies that deal primarily in light manufacturing have many unique benefits to their business models that they can use to their competitive advantage. Here’s how you can leverage your operations by leaning on your most beneficial qualities as a light manufacturer.
Examples of light manufacturing include the following industries:
- Agriculturally derived consumer goods like food, paper, leather
- Non-agriculturally derived consumer goods like plastics, electronics, nonorganic textiles
Light vs Heavy Manufacturing: What’s The Difference?
Light manufacturing is characterized by smaller, end-user consumer products. It generally has a lower carbon footprint and fluctuates with the capitalist market.
In contrast, heavy manufacturing refers to materials and chemicals processing of raw environmental resources. It has a larger carbon footprint due to higher emissions. It creates byproducts for further manufacturing plants and is often subsidized for the benefit of the local economy by public institutions.
Examples of heavy manufacturing include the following industries:
- Large structures like aircraft, wind turbines, dams, etc.
Pro Tip: The line between these two categories is not always so distinct. For example, light industries like electronics are capable of producing uniquely dangerous pollutants like lead that then leach into the ground soil.
8 Reasons Why Light Manufacturing is Advantageous
Here are 8 overlooked advantages of being a light manufacturer in the global market today.
Don’t just read this list of good qualities and give yourself a pat on the back for finding a niche in light industry – try to see these as opportunities to exploit for the purposes of making your operations more lean and better suited to customer expectations.
That’s why we’ve included a helpful “next steps” suggestion after each idea, to help orient you in the right direction.
1. Less capital and resource-intensive
Light manufacturing operations are less resource and capital dependent than heavy manufacturing plants. This means that with less resources spent on industrial machinery materials processing, more resources can be diverted to developing new and better products for end users.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your product strategy, as there is more opportunity for diverse offerings within light industry.
Next steps: Research and test new “lite” product offerings that cater to a lower price point, use recycled materials, or have pared-down applications. These all expand your customer base.
Pro Tip: We at VKS recognized that some customers don’t need all the bells and whistles coded into some MES systems – that’s why we offer our own “lite” version of work instruction software, and the variety of options available has allowed small and big manufacturers alike to decrease costs and increase efficiency.
2. More direct-to-consumer
Cut through the noise of business jargon and give the consumer exactly what they need. Also, since light manufacturing makes products for the end-user rather than another company for further processing and assembly, there is more control over the production process.
Think of it this way: society will always have a demand for pulp and paper products, but your end product of a newspaper or book press will fulfill a more nuanced demand. This creates a stronger commercial relationship as you define your own niche further and strive to meet customer specifications.
Next steps: Ramp up customized products or plans to build deeper customer relationships so that your product becomes more of a necessity and integral to their lives.
3. Avoiding off-shore costs
Supplier markets everywhere are tightening the red tape in hopes that people will buy nationally-made products to jumpstart their respective economies. So now is a great time to readjust your supplier schedules and routes.
Light manufacturers have so much more flexibility in this because they are able to operate in residential areas; heavy industries are geographically limited due to scale and pollution, which can mean supplier options are scarcer.
Next steps: Invest in local supply chains to get lower prices and better quality materials. Diversifying your suppliers (instead of the heavy industry approach of bulk-mining resources) will help protect you from unforeseen fluctuations.
4. More reliant on human labor
Being more reliant on a human labor base than on automated equipment is a definite advantage for light manufacturers because customers are wary of low-quality mass production when it comes to products for individual users. Putting a face to your company puts a human touch to your end product.
You know all that technological innovation involving robots and artificial intelligence that so threatens the state of human labor?
The first place that technology will be universally adopted is in heavy manufacturing plants, where human workers face safety issues in dangerous environments with extreme temperature conditions. That’s why you should invest in and celebrate the humanity that goes into your operations.
Next steps: Go forth and hire! Then, market your company to be human-centric and approachable in order to build consumer trust and eventually, brand loyalty. If you can't afford to hire, then exponentially increase the abilities of your current workforce by adopting automatic, digital work instructions for multiskilling.
5. Better safety, less exposure to harmful chemicals
Safety and health standards have emerged in the forefront of employee rights issues after the pandemic. Luckily, due to technological advancements in IoT devices, tracking your employees’ health and testing their knowledge of safety protocol is advantageous for everyone working the shop floor. These strategies are far more easily implemented in light manufacturing plants than in heavy ones.
Next steps: Double check you’re up to date on the latest industry safety best practices and enshrine them into your work instructions to provide full liability protection.
6. Indoors, protection from climate & elements
Fossil fuels dependency has had a massive impact on climate change. Whereas a steel processing plant may need to adapt to drastic weather conditions like intense seasonal flooding, a light manufacturer using steel products is generally unaffected by such weather conditions since most of the production occurs on indoor assembly lines.
Next steps: Consider the opportunity cost of inventory alongside the risk for natural disaster or climate conditions. Hint: you probably don’t need to store as much product “for a rainy day” as you think.
7. High value per unit of output
For heavy manufacturers, their profit margins can drop drastically across the board as their clients (usually larger manufacturing plants or government contractors) deal with rising costs.
For example, a pulp mill’s profitability will fluctuate with the larger cost trends for paper and paper products. If raw wood is scarce, then virtually all of the mill’s operations will take a hit in terms of profitability. The mill can’t readily pivot towards producing something else with a relatively greater demand, like PVC pipes, for example, because it only produces wood pulp.
Remember that as a light manufacturer, your greatest strength is the stable value of your product (in terms of quality, usage, design, and durability).
Next steps: Cut costs for materials, sure, but make sure to invest back into your end product to ensure a standard of high quality, as that will be the customer’s breaking point for whether or not to purchase.
8. Easier to manage flow using Gantt charts or work instructions software
It’s easier for light manufacturers to tweak process flow and experiment with best practices than for heavy manufacturers (like raw chemical processors) to do the same. And it’s easier than ever to measure the impact of small changes with the use of practical frameworks and statistically sound techniques.
Next steps: Automate the banal and repetitive bits of your production so you can collect data and have mathematical certainty within your strategy. This confidence in scientific processes will lead to less potential for mistakes.