The newsLINK Group - Flexible Manufacturing

Editorial Library Category: Manufacturing Topics: Flexible Manufacturing Title: Flexible Manufacturing Author: newsLINK Staff Synopsis: To stay competitive in the world marketplace, the U.S. needs to pay more attention to process than it has in the past. According to an MIT study, the U.S. has been a leader when it comes to product innovation, with U.S. companies spending twice as much on the product idea as they do on the process to create it. Editorial: Flexible Manufacturing 4064 South Highland Drive, Millcreek, Utah 84124 │ thenewslinkgroup.com │ (v) 801.676.9722 │ (tf) 855.747.4003 │ (f) 801.742.5803 Editorial Library | © The newsLINK Group LLC 1 Historical Background To stay competitive in the world marketplace, the U.S. needs to pay more attention to process than it has in the past. According to an MIT study, the U.S. has been a leader when it comes to product innovation, with U.S. companies spending twice as much on the product idea as they do on the process to create it. However, Japan, Germany, and other countries have chosen to spend twice as much on the process as on the product idea. In general, businesses have always competed with each other with respect to one or two strengths. These strengths are often called competitive priorities, core competencies, or distinctive competencies. Businesses may choose to compete over the cost, quality, delivery, service, or flexibility of the goods being sold, but more and more companies are competing over flexibility. What this means is that the product or the production volume can be easily changed in response to expected or unexpected market changes. One way for a company to stay competitive when it comes to flexibility is to invest in flexible manufacturing systems (FMS). The FMS philosophy developed as a result of increased market competition. The first FMS was created in England during the 1960s, and was called System 24. It was an automated machining system that did not require any human supervision and that worked flexibly under the control of complex computer software. The first FMS, and the ones that followed it, were large. Not every industry or business could afford one. Between 1960 and 1970 the emphasis for FMS was on cost reduction. As costs went down, quality became more important, and then delivery speed. FMS addressed all three requirements. Current-generation systems consist of at least two flexible manufacturing cells (FMC), where each cell has at least two computer-controlled machines. Some companies just implement cells instead of a complex, and more expensive, FMS. Defining Flexibility Businesses whose strength is in their flexibility call it flexible capacity, which means the business can create different production rates. This is done either through control of the number and operating hours of employees who operate its manufacturing equipment, or by starting and stopping manufacturing processes. Manufacturing flexibility has three components: 1. Machine flexibility, which consists of making a variety of products using one set of machines, or routing flexibility, which consists of making one product on many different sets of machines. Routing flexibility also includes the capacity to change the system’s capability, size, and volume. 2. Making new products on existing equipment. 3. Making design changes in the products but using the same equipment during the manufacturing process. Experts have defined flexibility in a variety of ways, but they generally agree on three core elements that determine three levels of flexibility with respect to manufacturing. Basic Flexibilities Machine flexibility: Defines how easy it is for a machine to process different operations. Material handling flexibility: Measures how easy it is to move and correctly position different types of parts to the system’s machine tools. Operation flexibility: Refers to how easy it is to use alternative operation sequences in order to process a particular part type. System flexibilities Volume flexibility: Measures the system’s ability to operate profitably with respect to different volumes of an existing part type. Expansion flexibility: Refers to whether a system can be built and expanded in stages.

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