Hurdles to Scaling Manufacturing Production in Canada and How to Overcome Them

In an age of lean and just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, rapidly increasing production to meet temporary fluctuations in demand can present challenges.

Upscaling typically requires modifications to production plant, material handling processes and staffing – as well as high availability of existing machinery and assets. Let’s dive deeper into all these things.

Planning for Higher Production: Limitations of Manufacturing Models

Manufacturing models have evolved to satisfy commercial and operating priorities of multiple companies and sectors. This includes volume (output) as well as customization (configuration) requirements.

Repetitive Manufacturing

Repetitive (or “continuous”) production processes are usually fully automated, as they utilize computer-integrated manufacturing planning and control systems to manufacture non-configurable products from standardized recipes, product formulations, and templates.

Common in food manufacturing and process industries (such as chemicals, petrochemicals, paint manufacturing), the model can adapt for bigger volumes if they do not exceed total installed capacity.  As continuously operated plants typically run for 8,400 hours every year (or 24 hours x 7 days a week x 50 weeks after factoring in maintenance and holiday downtime), increasing production to meet temporary demand is generally not feasible. Long-term demand can be met through new capital investments, but increasing production for special projects may be difficult.

Discrete Production

Discrete manufacturing utilizes a series of batch processes to produce limited volumes of configurable product units. These are usually identifiable by unique serial or batch numbers.

The model is typically labour-intensive, although different batch processes may link together to become “semi-automated”.

Used predominantly by consumer goods, appliances, automotive, and components manufacturers, discrete production models can be scaled-up relatively quickly, depending on company or plant-specific factors such as:

  • Physical Barriers to Expand Plant: Such as factory design, layout, land, machinery, capacity of power plant.
  • Automation Levels: Increasing throughput by automating/semi-automating labour-intensive processes such as filling and packaging operations.
  • Capital Availability: Accessing the capital required to lead a project through to completion. Manufacturers can typically offset a large portion of these costs through Canadian government funding programs.

Job Shop Production

Bespoke manufacturing models, often referred to as “job shops”, generally specialize in the production of one-off or small run orders or batches that require customized setups for one client to another. The production of designer fashion accessories is one example of this.

As these operations are geared towards small production runs, upscaling production typically amounts to transitioning into a repetitive manufacturer.

Material Handling

In recent years, material handing has become a focus of manufacturing process optimization, as it is estimated to contribute to a quarter of manufacturer payroll costs, utilize 55% of factory floorspace, account for as much as 87% of available production time, and represent between 20% and 50% of manufacturing costs.

Optimizing Material Handling with Facility Planning

Facility Planning (FP) allows manufacturing organizations to simulate (model) the impact of increased production flows and is widely used in forecasting the impact of different production scenarios on material handling, storage and logistics.

FP utilizes heuristic analysis and a statistical tool that uses mathematical algorithms called Tabu to help factory managers understand factory layout outcomes that are good, bad, or “Tabu” (taboo) and will not impact significantly on existing floor configurations.

User-friendly commercial software solutions are also available to assist with various aspects of production flow planning, including Arena, which allows manufacturers to model the impact of different production scenarios (including higher production requirements) on material handling, warehousing and storage, and staffing levels; and FlexSim, which brings 3D visualization capabilities that allow factory managers to ‘see’ how proposed changes might impact their facilities.

Optimizing Assets to Support Production Increases

Effective asset management ensures high availability of plant (the physical assets used to support manufacturing operations; including factories, the land they occupy, and machinery) and inventory (raw materials, materials-in-process, and finished goods stocks).

Preventative Maintenance in Plant Asset Management

Preventative Maintenance (PM) proactively enforces periodic shutdowns to enable inspections and repairs on the manufacturing plant. This helps avoid lengthier downtime when machinery degrades to the point of repair or replacement. From the perspective of supporting production increases, implementing preventive maintenace means optimizing existing installed capacity.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has made it possible for factory managers to interface with platforms and achieve a 360-degree perspective on their production facilities. Common languages and standards enable sensor-equipped machinery to report on performance status.

Enterprise asset management software continues to adapt towards the needs of manufacturers. Moreover, the development of external sensors for machinery that was previously incompatible with embedded sensor technologies (by Centrica Plc Subsidiary, Panoramic Power in particular) increases the scope for asset management.

Modern asset management, Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM), and Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) also allow input and feedback from factory workers, equipment suppliers (for example, maintenance recommendations), and even clients for even greater visibility of the manufacturing process.

Tracking Inventories

Traceability of raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods or products, is particularly important in upscaled production environments which are often subject to time pressures and limits on storage or warehousing space.

Barcoding and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies facilitate inventory management workflows by updating stores in real-time.

RFID tags are particularly effective for tracking the movement of materials through entire production and assembly lines, as they do not require line of sight and the radio signals they generate can be tracked from distances of up to 300 feet.

People in Production Upscaling

Staffing is a top concern among many Canadian manufacturers. A recent report suggests manufacturers and exporters will need to replace 22% of its workforce by 2022 to counter natural attrition caused by an ageing population. It’s estimated British Columbia alone will require 88,000 new factory employees by this time, with many other provinces requiring similar demand for skilled labourers.

Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program

The Federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program may provide relief for manufacturers who need to fill technical or laboratory roles, and can demonstrate that they were unable to recruit suitably qualified local candidates.

Shortages of manufacturing staff across North America (in its April 2018 Economic Release, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics  reported 451,000 unfilled manufacturing job openings – an increase of 78,000 vacancies or 20.9% in a single year), mean Canadian companies will increasingly find themselves competing for talent with their American counterparts.

Temporary Employees

“Contingent workers” is a term that applies to temporary staff supplied by recruitment agencies. Outside of traditional production roles, these workers may also provide relief for less-skilled roles (including logistics, warehousing, and packaging positions).

Upskilling and Apprenticeships

Utilizing existing company talent to support increased production is usually the most effective method of meeting new production requirements.

Upskilling and/or cross-training employees to support new production or administrative roles, and developing more flexible work practices (that allow factory employees to benefit from paid overtime), can produce a ready army of volunteers.

Paid apprenticeships will also provide manufacturers with the opportunity to ‘home-grow’ internal talent to meet future requirements.


  • Increased demand is invariably satisfied best by forward-looking policies that ensure high availability of manufacturing resources.
  • Technology can play a significant role in manufacturing process optimization by facilitating real-time monitoring for use in maintenance and operations management.
  • Manufacturers must keep in mind limitations associated with different production models, and potential restrictions on volumes in particular.

Author Profile


Bryan Christiansen is founder and CEO at Limble CMMS. Limble is a mobile first, modern, and easy to use CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.


Share with friends   

Written by

This is a post by a Guest Author. Disclaimer: The author's views are entirely his or her own, and don't necessarily reflect the opinions of Mentor Works Ltd.

Comments 0

Leave a Reply