What Is Manufacturing as a Service?
The “as-a-service” niche has been on the rise in tandem with cloud computing over the past few years. Really, it’s an industry all its own, independent of the services offered. The concept for manufacturing is no different.
Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS) is a unique mode of production that pools the resources of many producers to deliver a unified solution to customers. The MaaS provider doesn’t need total in-house capabilities — instead, they leverage manufacturing “as a service” alongside their core expertise. This solution serves both sides of the equation.
“As a service” defined
A MaaS provider might specialize in one aspect of manufacturing. Or, they might operate adjacent, as an engineer or a prototype developer. They offer their core capabilities, with manufacturing “as a service.” When a customer comes to them for a finished product, they work with a partner manufacturer to create the product and apply their expertise where needed. Here’s a basic example:
ABC Functional Prototypes offers CAD design and prototyping services. A customer asks them to design and produce a series of widgets. They accept the project and do all of the up-front prototype and design work. Then, they pass the functional designs to a partner manufacturer who makes the widgets to specifications. Finally, ABC Functional Prototypes delivers the finished product to their customer.
In this context, the in-house capabilities of the firm are prototype and CAD design; they offer manufacturing “as a service.”
MaaS is gaining popularity
It’s easy to see the appeal of MaaS. While full-service machine shops and manufacturing plants still exist for at-scale production runs, smaller shops and smaller customers need a way to tap into larger capabilities. MaaS allows them to do it. A small CNC milling shop can outsource finishing and assembly instead of bringing those capabilities in-house. Likewise, their customer doesn’t need to meet huge order minimums or contract with multiple vendors. It’s a win-win.
Convenience isn’t the only reason MaaS is on the rise. The need to stay competitive is a key driver for producers — as is the need to create new value streams. Producers aren’t pigeonholed to their in-house capabilities. Instead, they’re limited only by their ability to meet customer demand by any means necessary.
The cloud component of MaaS
The opportunities afforded to producers through MaaS are made possible by cloud computing. Without the ability to collaborate on a product in real time, share complex digital information, and coordinate a decentralized value stream, MaaS wouldn’t be possible. There’s also the prospect of real-time quotes and status updates that expedite MaaS.
MaaS (and the cloud) is transforming the way manufacturers think about their capabilities and opportunities. It allows producers to minimize their investment in certain aspects of the value stream, while concentrating on the parts they know. It also forges partnerships with other producers, to create a network of capabilities. There’s a sense of collaborative excellence, as opposed to fragmented competition.
The welder focuses on welding. The metallurgist focuses on treatments. The finishing specialist handles coatings. The customer gets a finished product of a high caliber. It’s all made possible through MaaS, no matter which vendor the customer speaks with. As we move further into Industry 4.0, the continued rise of MaaS will make it easier for manufacturers to maintain efficiency and for customers to get the products they need with equal efficiency.