Rapid response manufacturing, beyond Sigma and Lean

For most people close to the world of industry, Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are two old acquaintances. Two sets of tools designed to optimize the way in which companies work and produce. However, its large presence in firms around the world has not stopped the efforts of companies to continue improving. And one of the techniques that has been most successful after these two giants is Quick Response Manufacturing (or Quick Response Manufacturing – QRM). His recipe: get your business up and running at full speed.

What is Rapid Response Manufacturing

The Center for Rapid Response Manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin, founded by Rajan Suri, one of the main proponents of the QRM philosophy, defines the term thus: “It is a company-wide strategy to reduce manufacturing times in all manufacturing and office operations phases. It can get your products to market faster and help you compete in a rapidly changing manufacturing scenario.”

Above all, the Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) technique is focused on reducing manufacturing times. This focus on speed is what sets it apart from Sigma and Lean. These last two seek the greatest possible standardization, reducing variability and eliminating errors, waste and inefficiencies; an approach that has proven especially useful when applied to very large and highly standardized production volumes.

For its part, Rapid Response Manufacturing is more suitable for two types of companies: those that create products with a high degree of design, in small quantities or highly personalized, and those that have a large number of references with large fluctuations in demand. For this reason, while models such as Lean and Sigma are especially indicated for massive processes, QRM is finding its own market niche.

Fighting against variability

In these types of lower volume markets there are two problems related to variability: dysfunctional and strategic variability. The first includes manufacturing errors, the level of waste, organizational failures, inefficiencies, etc. In other words, difficulties that the Lean and Sigma models also face.

However, Rapid Response Manufacturing targets strategic variability, which is the variability that companies try to use to their advantage in order to compete. Ability to adapt and innovate, to change quickly according to market and customer requests, to digest abrupt changes in demand, to offer high levels of product customization… Companies that have -or want to have- these virtues in their value proposition are the most conducive to applying Rapid Response Manufacturing.

How does it work

The key to this system is speed and for this you need to involve the entire company in the change necessary to achieve it. One of the hallmarks of QRM is the creation of cells -instead of the traditional division by departments-, which are given a more global knowledge of the company’s processes. This helps them better understand the benefits of the model and how the company works. They are also given greater autonomy and responsibility when it comes to managing and designing the processes.

Another of the most striking features is the substitution of money for time. Most companies measure their processes in such a way that ultimately the result is measured in economic quantities. However, the results of Rapid Response Manufacturing are delivered on time, helping to accentuate its importance. Because time is going to become a strategic advantage for our company.

To achieve this change of mentality in the company, the so-called Manufacturing Critical Path Time are very useful. The idea is to measure the different steps of a process; usually from the time our company receives an order until it is delivered to the customer. In each of these steps, the elapsed time is controlled and, even more important, the amount of that time in which the process has actually been worked on. In this way, and transferring it to a map similar to the following, we can visualize how much time is lost in the companies.

Another aspect to highlight of the QRM is its transversal nature. If your company decides to apply this methodology, it will not only work with the processes and personnel directly involved in manufacturing, but it will be installed throughout the company. That is to say: logistics, administration, commercial, purchases… All of them are part of the gear that leads from the reception of the order to the delivery of the order.


Among its main advantages are:
Time reduction

How would it affect your company to go from budgeting an order, from design to delivery, in five weeks to being able to do it in just one? What would you do with those four extra weeks? How much distance could you get from your competitors? What if you were the fastest to be able to design a solution to the new problem in your sector? Speed is an advantage that you can use in front of your customers and that can make the difference between you and the competition, so working with your logistics providers will be a fundamental part of accelerating your deliveries.
Quality improvement

Speed, if done well, translates into quality. Reducing the time in which we serve our customers will mean an improvement in their satisfaction and one more reason for them to continue trusting our company. In addition, among other advantages, a more refined process with less downtime reduces the chances that the merchandise will deteriorate, expire, or be lost during the process.
Improvement in competitiveness

Reducing time doesn’t just make you faster. In industries where Rapid Response Manufacturing stands out, it allows you to offer your customers more personalized products or more up-to-date designs that include the latest improvements and innovations. You will not only be the first to be at your door, but you will be able to do it with the best product or the most innovative proposal.
Employee satisfaction

If we manage to successfully install the QRM methodology in our teams, we will foster the feeling of challenge to be on par or ahead of the speed of the market, of constant renewal, updating and learning. Teamwork and better interaction between departments – now cells – are also encouraged, as well as employee autonomy. In the same way that idle hours are reduced, which produce a feeling of fed up and demotivation.
Cash flow improvement

Until the moment of collection, the expenses that our company has generated during the whole process put pressure on our cash flow. So it is obvious that the more we shorten this journey, the less spending we will have ‘circulating’ without having yet been able to collect it.

Translating these advantages into numbers, according to the Center for QRM at the University of Wisconsin, the time savings for companies that apply its principles can be as much as 95% of the total. In addition to up to 30% cost savings, a 60% improvement in on-time deliveries and a reduction in scrap and rework of defective material of up to 80%. Certainly a good claim to see if Rapid Response Manufacturing suits your needs.

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Khaterine William

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