Micro-manufacturing: Build local, ship global

The personalised economy

Oman is a country that makes things from car batteries, AC units, confectionery, footwear, marble kitchen tops to tomato paste. The products manufactured are diverse and exported to 135 countries, representing 9.3 per cent of GDP with an employment of over 38,000 people in the manufacturing sector.

The sector is at the heart of Oman’s ambitious economy and this month’s Inside Stories event scheduled to be held at 7:00pm on September 26 at the Public Authority for Civil Aviation Training Centre in Al Hail North will specifically focus on this sector, said a press communiqué.

Breathing new life into Oman’s manufacturing sector is the growth of niche micro-manufacturers. These small companies typically employ fewer than ten workers and include metal fabricators, silversmiths, bakers, graphic designers, organic soap makers, furniture builders, chocolatiers to seamstresses. Though small in size, many of these hi-tech urban micro-manufacturers are becoming an economic force to be reckoned with, radically altering the landscape of how things get made in Oman.

Global interconnectedness and technological advances, particularly in digital fabrication are changing the face of Omani manufacturing. Today, the sector requires less staff, less investment, less space and is much easier to manage. What was once done with 20 machines and 50 people can now be done with two or three machines and minimum staff.

“Micro-manufacturing is nothing new,” points out Taleb al Makhmari, Director General, Marketing & Media at Ithraa, Oman’s inward investment and export development agency, and organiser of the monthly Inside Stories initiative.

“But we’re seeing its resurgence,” he explained: “from hand-made chocolate, eco-friendly cosmetics to women’s fashion to precision engineering, where innovation in design is creating products that capture the consumers’ attention.”

According to Ithraa’s Director General, micro-manufacturing is about bringing innovative twists to old ideas, completely new innovations or throwbacks to lost ways of doing things. And there is a wide variety of angles for this business model and it can mold to any area or section of the economy.

“This new breed of savvy Omani micro-manufacturers include artists, crafters, knitters, seamstresses, builders, programmers, engineers, bakers and graphic designers, all specializing in custom products, small quantities and fast turnaround - making everything from jewelry, crockery, kitchen knives to bicycles. And it’s all being driven by social media, mobile technology, analytics and cloud computing. These are people that just want to design and make cool things. They want to make stuff and they want to do that personally, not outsource to faraway places,” emphasised Makhmari.

Aided by popular crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, young Omani makers understand how to attract funds to their projects and they are figuring out how to build products locally.

“They don’t need large factories. Instead, they require compact, micro-manufacturing facilities tailored to small, flexible production runs. For many Omani designers and inventors, micro-manufacturing will be the key to their commercial success,” pointed out the Ithraa Director General.

The cost of machinery has also plummeted and every stage of production has become simpler with affordable and easy to use cloud-based software, making ordering, stocking, production and finance-management cheaper and simpler. All of this means the whole process can be directed by smaller teams.

“Three guys with laptops used to describe an Internet start-up. Now it describes a micro-manufacturing firm,” Makhmari added with a smile.

The September 26 session of the Inside Stories will be moderated by Malak al Shaibani, the Director General of the National Business Centre, a government-run business incubator based on Knowledge Oasis Muscat. Malak will be joined by Industrial Innovation Center Executive Director Dr Abdullah al Mahruki, Oliban CEO Dr. Amaal al Abrawi, Amira’s Soaps founder Amira al Rawahi and Sarah al Asfoor, the founder of the highly popular Souq al Sabt.

Interested persons can register for Inside Stories by loging on to events.ithraa.om

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