A Future with Microfactories

By: Mouser Electronics

Microfactories have been in incubation since their conception in the 1990s at Japan’s Mechanical Engineer Laboratory (MEL). The concept of a microfactory prioritizes efficiency and reduces the overall proportions of a factory relative to the size of the parts they produce. In this blog, we will explore how microfactories prioritize efficiency and agility in manufacturing by minimizing the size and footprint of equipment to match the scale of modern parts, offering substantial savings and operational flexibility. Furthermore, we will discuss how microfactories mitigate global supply chain disruptions by enabling distributed manufacturing closer to raw material sources and demand, fostering greater customization and adaptability to market needs.

From Traditional Factories to Microfactories

Where traditional factories focus on reaching a desirable economy of scale and producing relatively large parts, many modern machines and electronic equipment are made of much smaller parts. This change is in line with the trend towards miniaturization of a vast number of electronic components. By reducing the manufacturing equipment’s overall size and footprint to more modern manufactured part scales, many organizations may experience substantial savings in capital expenses and operation costs compared to a traditional manufacturing approach.

With the additional savings coming from tackling manufacturing in a more compact mindset, as well as the mix of smaller footprint and smaller scale machines that can be more readily automated, there is greater room for flexibility and agility in manufacturing. The ability to adapt more rapidly to customer requirements and market changes means less sizable initial investments and the ability to plan smaller runs of a product line with more customization potential. In this way, an organization could start a product line or key manufacturing process with a smaller but scalable microfactory, and as demand increases, the organization could build out more microfactories closer to the sources of demand.

By focusing on manufacturing machines with greater automation potential, there is also the benefit of having fewer operators, technicians, and other staff in the microfactory. Instead, it is possible to leverage the latest in wireless and wired connectivity with microfactories to have remote operators that can program and manage the machines from a central or even distributed location. With the ability to hire and employ expertise from around the globe to manage certain machines, microfactories are not subject to the same level of talent availability in a location, thereby eliminating a liability for traditional factories. Moreover, microfactories being as small as they have the potential to be, means that a microfactory location could be selected by available talent instead of prioritizing the myriad of other real estate and supply chain concerns that dominate traditional factory placement.

Microfactories and Supply Chains

Another key justification for microfactories is to circumvent the disruptions to industry by having distributed manufacturing capability throughout a region or in many areas. This way, microfactories avoid the massive, complex, and often fragile supply chains associated with traditional manufacturing. For instance, many conventional manufacturing systems rely on a few vendors’ equipment and expertise to supply the materials, maintenance, and manufacturing equipment. Any vendor supply disruption can often substantially impact a manufacturing facility’s bottom line and schedules. A more specific example is the limited number of vendors making industrial-scale textile manufacturing machines. If one of these vendors goes out of business or, for some reason, cannot supply personnel for the necessary maintenance of their machines, this could severely impact a significant portion of the textile industry in countries such as India.

With transportation and efficiency in mind, building out a micromanufacturing facility near the source of the raw materials or base goods needed for various manufacturing processes is possible. Such a micromanufacturing system could even be located within a larger industrial installation or facility, granting the microfactory immediate access to the raw materials needed for manufacturing, thus limiting the need to store materials. Naturally, such an approach would also eliminate many supply chain risk factors. An example is the inclusion of a microfactory on or near a precision metals refinery. If the microfactory is geared to manufacture goods from precious metals, having direct access to a refinery would minimize transportation costs and allow for the on-demand ordering of materials to meet the change in market forces. Local access to raw materials and base goods for manufacturing also circumvents the tariffs imposed by many countries and regions.

In many cases, raw materials and base goods may travel through different borders, and tariff fees may be charged during each exchange. In extreme cases, materials and goods must go back and forth between borders before final manufacturing. Even if the raw materials or base goods for a micromanufacturing process need to cross borders, locating the microfactory in the ideal location to reduce tariffs or minimize transportation costs is possible. With large-scale traditional manufacturing facilities, the concerns associated with economic and political factors for building such a factory are much more complex and often result in tradeoffs that sacrifice efficiency or increase risk for various factors.


The microfactory concept is a huge leap away from traditional factory planning and design, but in a small way. Given the momentum of certain industries, it is unlikely that microfactories will replace conventional factories. What is likely is that microfactories will be built in response to customer demand and the viability of certain manufactured goods in certain areas, filling a gap that traditional factories cannot fill. Moreover, as many markets are leaning toward a preference for the customizability of goods instead of raw price points, there is greater room for microfactories to operate. Lastly, it is also possible that the microfactory concept is better suited to startups and new technology products, where the organization directors want to scale naturally instead of relying on large loans or venture capital to produce their products.

The blog has been republished with permission.