How e-commerce supports agile and lean manufacturing

2 mins read

Lean manufacturing (and lean business processes in general) are all about one thing: eliminating waste.

Not necessarily waste in the green, sustainable sense — or rather, not exclusively so. In lean manufacturing, waste is everything that doesn’t directly contribute to adding value to the customer. Here are lean’s seven kinds of waste:

1.Over-production against plan

2.Waiting time of operators and machines

3.Unnecessary transportation

4.Waste in the process itself

5.Excess of stock material and components

6.Non value-adding motion

7.Defects in quality

In short: lean processes are about creating more value for customers with fewer resources. Agile manufacturing on the other hand however, is about dealing with customer expectations. So how do the two fit together and why should you consider it?

The core of agile manufacturing boils down to responding rapidly to your customer’s needs. As a result, lean is often seen as a precursor to agile — clearing the path to the speed needed to immediately respond to client demands.

According to, the four key elements of agile manufacturing include:

Modular product design for fast and easy variation

Information technology for automation and fast data dissemination

Corporate partners for alliances that improve time to market

A knowledge culture to help employees embrace a new way of working

If manufacturers are able to address these four pillars and successfully drive them across the organisation, then they should be able to meet customer expectations with lightning-fast responses.

While an agile and lean approach is typically used to address the production process, a web store can support your commercial departments to become just as agile and lean as your product silos;

Digital channels like web stores are easier to update with new product updates or new prices.

A web store lets your customers directly communicate their needs, without having to go through a sales representative or account manager.

Automating this communication allows sales representatives to focus on adding real value rather than time-consuming and tedious administration tasks

More advanced web stores with built-in product configurators also let clients order customised parts online. However, this type of functionality currently isn’t available with most web stores

An effective e-commerce solution can help you keep pace and drive lean and agile principles throughout your commercial departments, but successfully launching a webstore for manufacturing isn’t as straightforward as opening a consumer webstore. This is doubly true if your product life cycles are short and product specifications long.

Professional buyers need more advanced features to successfully place orders online — especially in fast-paced industries like manufacturing. But that doesn’t mean that setting up a suitable e-commerce environment is out of reach.

ERP driven e-commerce for manufacturing

Flexibility in combination with complex products means that traditional sales and marketing channels are no longer viable. Paper catalogues are obviously out of the question, but you also don’t want to spend time manually updating a web store. It’s wasteful and error-prone.

You can find the solution in one of the agile pillars: smart use of IT to automate data dissemination. Or, to get more specific: ensuring that your digital channels use product and pricing information taken directly from your ERP system.

By taking the product information from your existing database — no manual actions necessary — you can save time and minimise errors. And if your setup allows for real-time data exchange, your customers only see the latest iteration of your products.

Another advantage to real-time data exchange between your web store and your ERP system, is an agile one. The orders entered through your web store are immediately available and ready for processing in your ERP. And the sooner you process orders, the sooner you can ship.

The increasing need for speed isn’t the only trend affecting manufacturing. In the face of rapidly evolving technology, it might be unsurprising that our recent survey of over 300 B2B companies worldwide indicated that 70% of businesses say competitive pressure is driving the optimisation of their IT infrastructure. By introducing lean and agile principles to other business processes can be truly beneficial to manufacturers striving to remain competitive and stay at the forefront of their industry. By focusing on adding value and eliminating wasteful practices, manufacturers can drive efficiency and meet demand whilst delivering a fast and seamless customer experience.