Imagine your manufacturing business as a chain. In the end, all of the links will work together to create your final product. The longer and more physically spread out your chain becomes, the more difficult it is to manage and work together to create a successful product.

Shortening the chain makes it infinitely easier to maintain. The key is to create a chain that is just the right length in order for it to be sustainable. A long chain will serve to frustrate you, your customers, and your team and have an effect on your final product.

The Length of the Chain

Industry is learning the hard way that separating design, engineering, and continuous improvement from the physical operation is bad. For example, Company A is having its product made in New York City’s Garment District. Company A is running small lots, interacts with designers routinely, and can make on-the-fly changes to its designs.

Company B, on the other hand, is having its product designed in the United States, but the product is being manufactured abroad. Company B is 6,500 miles away from its production facility, which can make small changes in design – and the receipt of samples – more difficult and time-consuming.

Sustainable Products and Businesses

The length of the chain isn’t the only pressing concern businesses deal with in managing the chain. Most companies are very sensitive to sustainability. For instance, in the packaging business, when a client makes a commitment to use packaging with the least environmental impact, he needs to understand that sustainable also has to mean commercially viable.

Many clients want to know the carbon footprint of the products they’re purchasing. Overseas shipping containers need a lot of oil to move. What could be produced with a high percentage of local raw materials that, if moved, could be done with minimal impact? Once all the costs are considered, the tipping point of having your chain and “making it here” has to make commercial and financial sense.

The New Industrial Revolution

The advent of change is only a matter of time. People have become more educated, are able to organize quickly through social media, and can improve their situation with much more ease than 50 years ago. Americans are more sensitive to social issues, and while we might suffer a downturn in the United States in the short term, the conditions of millions of people are improving much faster than they did before.

It will no longer take two generations for safer working conditions to be established, wages to grow, environmental productions to be put in place, and capitalism, complete with a better life, to flourish. It won’t take two generations for a new middle class to emerge. The same people who have risen from the lower ranks will be consumers. That is long-term sustainability.

With technology and a more aware consumer, companies that provide a product that has to be manufactured, developed, and nurtured need to account for the impact of the links in their manufacturing chains on the product production. Bottom line, the chain links of manufacturing have a direct effect on how environmentally friendly a product is. As a people, we have become more aware of the environmental ramifications of the products we buy. Buying local and manufacturing local is not only good for maintaining a sustainable chain, it’s also good for considering the environment in your business.

Image: Production Line via Shutterstock