a flexible manufacturing system is

a flexible manufacturing system is

Business firms generally choose to compete within one or two areas of strength. These areas of strength are often referred to as distinctive competencies, core competencies, or competitive priorities. Among the options for competition are price (cost), quality, delivery, service, and flexibility. An ever-increasing number of firms are choosing to compete in the area of flexibility. Generally, this has meant that the firm's major strength is flexibility of product (able to easily make changes in the product) or flexibility of volume (able to easily absorb large shifts in demand). Firms that are able to do this are said to have flexible capacity, the ability to operate manufacturing equipment at different production rates by varying staffing levels and operating hours, or starting and stopping at will. Specifically, manufacturing flexibility consists of three components: (1) the flexibility to produce a variety of products using the same machines and to produce the same products on different machines; (2) the flexibility to produce new products on existing machines; and (3) the flexibility of the machines to accommodate changes in the design of products.

FLEXIBLE MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS

A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) is a group of numerically-controlled machine tools, interconnected by a central control system. The various machining cells are interconnected, via loading and unloading stations, by an automated transport system. Operational flexibility is enhanced by the ability to execute all manufacturing tasks on numerous product designs in small quantities and with faster delivery. It has been described as an automated job shop and as a miniature automated factory. Simply stated, it is an automated production system that produces one or more families of parts in a flexible manner. Today, this prospect of automation and flexibility presents the possibility of producing nonstandard parts to create a competitive advantage.

The concept of flexible manufacturing systems evolved during the 1960s when robots, programmable controllers, and computerized numerical controls brought a controlled environment to the factory floor in the form of numerically-controlled and direct-numerically-controlled machines.

For the most part, FMS is limited to firms involved in batch production or job shop environments. Normally, batch producers have two kinds of equipment from which to choose: dedicated machinery or unautomated, general-purpose tools. Dedicated machinery results in cost savings but lacks flexibility. General purpose machines such as lathes, milling machines, or drill presses are all costly, and may not reach full capacity. Flexible manufacturing systems provide the batch manufacturer with another option—one that can make batch manufacturing just as efficient and productive as mass production.

Stated formally, the general objectives of an FMS are to approach the efficiencies and economies of scale normally associated with mass production, and to maintain the flexibility required for small- and medium-lot-size production of a variety of parts.

Two kinds of manufacturing systems fall within the FMS spectrum. These are assembly systems, which assemble components into final products and forming systems, which actually form components or final products. A generic FMS is said to consist of the following components:

  1. A set of work stations containing machine tools that do not require significant set-up time or change-over between successive jobs. Typically, these machines perform milling, boring, drilling, tapping, reaming, turning, and grooving operations.
  2. A material-handling system that is automated and flexible in that it permits jobs to move between any pair of machines so that any job routing can be followed.
  3. A network of supervisory computers and microprocessors that perform some or all of the following tasks: (a) directs the routing of jobs through the system; (b) tracks the status of all jobs in progress so it is known where each job is to go next; (c) passes the instructions for the processing of each operation to each station and ensures that the right tools are available for the job; and (d) provides essential monitoring of the correct performance of operations and signals problems requiring attention.
  4. Storage, locally at the work stations, and/or centrally at the system level.
  5. The jobs to be processed by the system. In operating an FMS, the worker enters the job to be run at the supervisory computer, which then downloads the part programs to the cell control or NC controller.

The potential benefits from the implementation and utilization of a flexible manufacturing system have been detailed by numerous researchers on the subject. A review of the literature reveals many tangible and intangible benefits that FMS users extol. These benefits include:

  • less waste
  • fewer workstations
  • quicker changes of tools, dies, and stamping machinery
  • reduced downtime
  • better control over quality
  • reduced labor
  • more efficient use of machinery
  • work-in-process inventory reduced
  • increased capacity
  • increased production flexibility

The savings from these benefits can be sizable. Enough so that Ford has poured $4,400,000 into overhauling its Torrence Avenue plant in Chicago, giving it flexible manufacturing capability. This will allow the factory to add new models in as little as two weeks instead of two months or longer. Richard Truett reports, in Automotive News, that the flexible manufacturing systems used in five of Ford Motor Company's plants will yield a $2.5 billion savings. Truett also reports that, by the year 2010, Ford will have converted 80 percent of its plants to flexible manufacturing.

Despite these benefits, FMS does have certain limitations. In particular, this type of system can only handle a relatively-narrow range of part varieties, so it must be used for similar parts (family of parts) that require similar processing. Due to increased complexity and cost, an FMS also requires a longer planning and development period than traditional manufacturing equipment.

Equipment utilization for the FMS sometimes is not as high as one would expect. Japanese firms tend to have a much higher equipment utilization rate than U.S. manufacturers utilizing FMS. This is probably a result of U.S. users' attempt to utilize FMS for high-volume production of a few parts rather than for a high-variety production of many parts at a low cost per unit. U.S. firms average ten types of parts per machine, compared to ninety-three types of parts per machine in Japan.

Other problems can result from a lack of technical literacy, management incompetence, and poor implementation of the FMS process. If the firm misidentifies its objectives and manufacturing mission, and does not maintain a manufacturing strategy that is consistent with the firm's overall strategy, problems are inevitable. It is crucial that a firm's technology acquisition decisions be consistent with its manufacturing strategy.

If a firm chooses to compete on the basis of flexibility rather than cost or quality, it may be a candidate for flexible manufacturing, especially if it is suited for low- to mid-volume production. This is particularly true if the firm is in an industry where products change rapidly, and the ability to introduce new products may be more important than minimizing cost. In this scenario, scale is no longer the main concern and size is no longer a barrier to entry.

However, an FMS may not be appropriate for some firms. Since new technology is costly and requires several years to install and become productive, it requires a supportive infrastructure and the allocation of scarce resources for implementation. Frankly, many firms do not possess the necessary resources. Economically justifying an FMS can be a difficult task—especially since cost accounting tends to be designed for mass production of a mature product, with known characteristics, and a stable technology. Therefore, it is difficult to give an accurate indication of whether flexible manufacturing is justified. The question remains of how to quantify the benefits of flexibility. In addition, rapidly-changing technology and shortened product life cycles can cause capital equipment to quickly become obsolete.

For other firms, their products may not require processes at the technological level of an FMS. IBM found that a redesigned printer was simple enough for high-quality manual assembly and that the manual assembly could be achieved at a lower cost than automated assembly. Potential FMS users should also consider that some of the costs traditionally incurred in manufacturing may actually be higher in a flexible automated system than in conventional manufacturing. Although the system is continually self-monitoring, maintenance costs are expected to be higher. Energy costs are likely to be higher despite more efficient use of energy. Increased machine utilization can result in faster deterioration of equipment, providing a shorter than average economic life. Finally, personnel training costs may prove to be relatively high.

For some firms, worker resistance is a problem. Workers tend to perceive automation as an effort to replace them with a tireless piece of metal that does not eat, take breaks, or go to the bathroom. To combat this perception, many firms stress that workers are upgraded as a result of FMS installation, and that no loss of jobs ensues. Despite any problems, use of flexible manufacturing systems should continue to grow as more firms are forced to compete on a flexibility basis and as technology advances. It has shown many advantages in low- to mid-volume, high-mix production applications. Future systems will probably see lower and lower quantities per batch. FMS can somewhat shift emphasis in manufacturing from large-scale, repetitive production of standard products to highly-automated job shops featuring the manufacture of items in small batches for specific customers. The increased availability of flexible manufacturing technology will also give multi-product firms more choices of how to design production facilities, how to assign products to facilities, and how to share capacity among products.

Fliedner and Vokurka, in their Production and Inventory Management Journal article on agile manufacturing, define agile manufacturing as the ability to successfully market low-cost, high-quality products with short lead times (and in varying volumes) that provide enhanced customer value through customization. An agile firm manages change as a matter of routine. The difference between agility and flexibility is whether or not the change in market demand has been predicted. Flexibility refers to the capability of rapidly changing from one task to another when changing conditions are defined ahead of time. Agility refers to the ability to respond quickly to unanticipated market-place changes. Fliedner and Vokurka present four, key dimensions of agile competition:

  1. Enriching the customer. This requires a quick understanding of the unique requirements of individual customers and rapidly meeting those requirements.
  2. Cooperating to enhance competitiveness. This includes better intraorganizational cooperation and may extend to interorganizational cooperation—such as supplier partnerships and virtual relationships.
  3. Organizing to master change and uncertainty. This involves utilizing new organizational structures provided by such techniques as concurrent engineering and cross-functional teams.
  4. Leveraging the impact of people and information. This places great emphasis on the development of employees through education, training, and empowerment.

IMPLEMENTING AGILE MANUFACTURING

Finally, the two authors prescribe a series of internal and external initiatives for successful implementation of agile manufacturing. The internal initiatives include the following:

  1. Business process reengineering. This is the rethinking and radical redesign of business processes so that dramatic improvements in critical areas can be achieved.
  2. Management planning and execution tools. This involves the use of such techniques as manufacturing resource planning, real-time manufacturing execution systems, production planning configurators, and real-time threaded scheduling.
  3. Design for manufacturability/assembly. The results include modular products that allow for future upgrades, fewer parts for enhanced reliability, and recycling.
  4. Reorganization processes. Process reorganization could include the use of flexible manufacturing systems or cellular manufacturing.
  5. Intraorganizational cooperation. This form of cooperation calls for the use of employee empowerment/involvement techniques and employee education and training.

External initiatives include:

  1. Interorganizational cooperation. This means early supplier involvement in product and process designs, training suppliers in such activities as vendor-managed inventories, and joint research efforts.
  2. Supply chain practices. The use of outsourcing, schedule sharing, and postponement of product design are included.
  3. Information technology. Some companies are using technology to improve supply chain improvement. For example, the move from centralized, mainframe computing to decentralized, client and server computing.
  4. Point-of-sale data collection. Reductions in order entry time are being achieved with electronic data interchange (EDI), radio frequency communications tools, bar coding, and electronic commerce.

The authors feel that flexibility provided by agility may emerge as the most important competitive priority of the early twenty-first century, as competition is expected to ensure that manufacturers will increasingly need to adapt readily to market shifts. Ford Motor Company has reportedly invested $350 million in new, agile manufacturing equipment at its Cleveland Engine Plant. A Ford Vice President describes the move as the heart of lean manufacturing.

Chandra, Charu, Mark Everson, and Janis Grabis. "Evaluation of Enterprise-Level Benefits of Manufacturing Flexibility." Omega 33, no. 1 (2005): 17–31.

Fliedner, Gene, and Robert J. Vokurka. "Agility: Competitive Weapon of the 1990s and Beyond." Production and Inventory Management Journal 38, no. 3 (1997): 1&–24.

"Ford Furthers Flexible Manufacturing Effort." Manufacturing Engineering 133, no. 1 (2004): 27.

Popely, Rick. "Ford Upgrades Chicago Plant to Meet Need for 'Flexible Manufacturing.'" Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, 9 June 2004.

Schonfeld, Erick. "The Customized, Digitized, Have-It-Your-Way Economy." Fortune, 28 September 1998, 114–124.

Truett, Richard. "Ford's Flexibility Reaps Rich Reward." Automotive News 78, no. 6106 (2004): 17.

Tseng, Mei-Chiun. "Strategic Choice of Flexible Manufacturing Technologies." International Journal of Production Economics 91, no. 3 (2004): 223–227.

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A flexible manufacturing system is

In the middle of the 1960s, market competition became more intense.

During 1960 to 1970 cost was the primary concern. Later quality became a priority. As the market became more and more complex, speed of delivery became something customer also needed.

A new strategy was formulated: Customizability. The companies have to adapt to the environment in which they operate, to be more flexible in their operations and to satisfy different market segments (customizability).

Thus the innovation of FMS became related to the effort of gaining competitive advantage.

First of all, FMS is a manufacturing technology.

Secondly, FMS is a philosophy. "System" is the key word. Philosophically, FMS incorporates a system view of manufacturing. The buzz word for today’s manufacturer is "agility". An agile manufacturer is one who is the fastest to the market, operates with the lowest total cost and has the greatest ability to "delight" its customers. FMS is simply one way that manufacturers are able to achieve this agility.

An MIT study on competitiveness pointed out that American companies spent twice as much on product innovation as they did on process innovation. Germans and Japanese did just the opposite.

In studying FMS, we need to keep in mind what Peter Drucker said: "We must become managers of technology not merely users of technology".

Since FMS is a technology, well adjusted to the environmental needs, we have to manage it successfully.

1. Flexibility concept. Different approaches

Today flexibility means to produce reasonably priced customized products of high quality that can be quickly delivered to customers.

Different approaches to flexibility and their meanings are shown Table 1.

  • The capability of producing different parts without major retooling
  • A measure of how fast the company converts its process (es) from making an old line of products to produce a new product
  • The ability to change a production schedule, to modify a part, or to handle multiple parts

  • The ability to efficiently produce highly customized and unique products

  • The ability to exploit various dimension of speed of delivery

  • The ability of a company to offer a wide variety of products to its customers

  • The ability to rapidly increase or decrease production levels or to shift capacity quickly from one product or service to another

So, what is flexibility in manufacturing?

While variations abound in what specifically constitutes flexibility, there is a general consensus about the core elements. There are three levels of manufacturing flexibility.

(a) Basic flexibilities

  • Machine flexibility - the ease with which a machine can process various operations
  • Material handling flexibility - a measure of the ease with which different part types can be transported and properly positioned at the various machine tools in a system
  • Operation flexibility - a measure of the ease with which alternative operation sequences can be used for processing a part type

(b) System flexibilities

  • Volume flexibility - a measure of a system’s capability to be operated profitably at different volumes of the existing part types
  • Expansion flexibility - the ability to build a system and expand it incrementally
  • Routing flexibility - a measure of the alternative paths that a part can effectively follow through a system for a given process plan
  • Process flexibility - a measure of the volume of the set of part types that a system can produce without incurring any setup
  • Product flexibility - the volume of the set of part types that can be manufactured in a system with minor setup

(c) Aggregate flexibilities

  • Program flexibility - the ability of a system to run for reasonably long periods without external intervention
  • Production flexibility - the volume of the set of part types that a system can produce without major investment in capital equipment
  • Market flexibility - the ability of a system to efficiently adapt to changing market conditions

2. Seeking benefits on flexibility

Today’s manufacturing strategy is to seek benefits from flexibility. This is only feasible when a production system is under complete control of FMS technology. Having in mind the Process- Product Matrix you may realize that for an industry it is possible to reach for high flexibility by making innovative technical and organizational efforts. See the Volvo’s process structure that makes cars on movable pallets, rather than an assembly line. The process gains in flexibility. Also, the Volvo system has more flexibility because it uses multi-skill operators who are not paced by a mechanical line.

So we may search for benefits from flexibility on moving to the job shop structures.

Actually, the need is for flexible processes to permit rapid low cost switching from one product line to another. This is possible with flexible workers whose multiple skills would develop the ability to switch easily from one kind of task to another.

As main resources, flexible processes and flexible workers would create flexible plants as plants which can adapt to changes in real time, using movable equipment, knockdown walls and easily accessible and re-routable utilities.

3. FMS- an example of technology and an alternative layout

The idea of an FMS was proposed in England (1960s) under the name "System 24", a flexible machining system that could operate without human operators 24 hours a day under computer control. From the beginning the emphasis was on automation rather than the "reorganization of workflow".

Early FMSs were large and very complex, consisting of dozens of Computer Numerical Controlled machines (CNC) and sophisticate material handling systems. They were very automated, very expensive and controlled by incredibly complex software. There were only a limited number of industries that could afford investing in a traditional FMS as described above.

Currently, the trend in FMS is toward small versions of the traditional FMS, called flexible manufacturing cells (FMC).

Today two or more CNC machines are considered a flexible cell and two ore more cells are considered a flexible manufacturing system.

Thus, a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) consists of several machine tools along with part and tool handling devices such as robots, arranged so that it can handle any family of parts for which it has been designed and developed.

Different FMSs levels are:

Flexible Manufacturing Module (FMM). Example : a NC machine, a pallet changer and a part buffer;

Flexible Manufacturing (Assembly) Cell (F(M/A)C). Example : Four FMMs and an AGV(automated guided vehicle);

Flexible Manufacturing Group (FMG). Example : Two FMCs, a FMM and two AGVs which will transport parts from a Part Loading area, through machines, to a Part Unloading Area;

Flexible Production Systems (FPS). Example : A FMG and a FAC, two AGVs, an Automated Tool Storage, and an Automated Part/assembly Storage;

Flexible Manufacturing Line (FML). Example : multiple stations in a line layout and AGVs.

4. Advantages and disadvantages of FMSs implementation

Advantages

  • Faster, lower- cost changes from one part to another which will improve capital utilization
  • Lower direct labor cost, due to the reduction in number of workers
  • Reduced inventory, due to the planning and programming precision
  • Consistent and better quality, due to the automated control
  • Lower cost/unit of output, due to the greater productivity using the same number of workers
  • Savings from the indirect labor, from reduced errors, rework, repairs and rejects

Disadvantages

  • Limited ability to adapt to changes in product or product mix (ex. machines are of limited capacity and the tooling necessary for products, even of the same family, is not always feasible in a given FMS)
  • Substantial pre-planning activity
  • Expensive, costing millions of dollars
  • Technological problems of exact component positioning and precise timing necessary to process a component
  • Sophisticated manufacturing systems

FMSs complexity and cost are reasons for their slow acceptance by industry. In most of the cases FMCs are favored.

Flexible Systems Management (Managerial Function)

Flexibility is a type of characteristics in management that facilitates a mixed model manufacturing system to cope up with a certain level of variations in part or product style, without having any interruption in production due to changeovers between models. Flexibility measures the capacity to adjust to range of possible environment. In order to become flexible, a manufacturing system must possess some capabilities that include Identification of the different production units to perform the correct operation and quick changeover of operating instructions to the computer controlled production machines. Flexible manufacturing system is developed in order to gain competitive advantage in tough business environment.

A flexible manufacturing system is a manufacturing system in which there is some extent of flexibility that permits the system to react when there are changes in environment, whether predicted or unpredicted. The notion of Flexible manufacturing systems is explained as the most automated and technologically sophisticated of the machine cell types used to implement cellular manufacturing. This system has multiple automated stations and is capable of variable routings among stations, while its flexibility allows it to operate as a mixed model system. The term flexible manufacturing systems emerged in the decade of 1960s when robots, programmable controllers, and computerized numerical controls brought a controlled setting to the factory floor in the form of numerically-controlled and direct-numerically-controlled machines. In many part, flexible manufacturing system is restricted to firms involved in batch production or job shop environments, such as lathes, milling machines, or drill, presses, are all costly and may not reach to full capacity. Flexible manufacturing systems offer the batch manufacturer with another option that can make batch manufacturing just as competent and productive as mass production.

This flexibility has two categories. The first category, machine flexibility include the system's capacity to be changed to produce new product types, and ability to change the order of operations executed on a part. The second category is termed as routing flexibility, which comprises of the ability to use multiple machines to perform the same operation on a part, as well as the system's ability to absorb large-scale changes, such as in volume, capacity, or capability. Routing flexibility can be vital to deal with different kinds of volume demands for different part variants and to maintain through-put capabilities in terms of machine breakdowns. The FMS concept integrates many of the advanced technologies including flexible automation. Most flexible manufacturing system consist of three main systems. The work machines which are often automated CNC machines are connected by a material handling system to optimize parts flow and the central control computer which controls material movements and machine flow. Flexible manufacturing system is a group of manufacturing cells linked by an automatic material handling system and a central computer. It manufactures a mix of piece-part types while being flexible enough to consecutively manufacture different piece-part type mixes without costly, time-consuming, changeover requirement. It is a medium size batch production system.

Flexible Manufacturing System

Basic components of Flexible manufacturing system as follows:

Workstations: These are basically CNC tools that performs machining process on various parts.

Automated material handling and storage system: They are used to transport work parts between the processing stations, sometimes integrating storage into function.

Computer control system: It is used to synchronize the processing stations and material handling in Flexible manufacturing system.

Flexible manufacturing system can be differentiated by the manner they perform, as either processing operations or assembly operations. Flexible manufacturing system are custom-built so that company can find a comprehensive range of system that have been implemented to differing projects. Each Flexible manufacturing system is customized and exclusive. Flexible manufacturing system is basically, the number of machines it contains; or whether it is a dedicated or random-order FMS, in terms of the parts it processes.

There are different types of flexibility that are showed by manufacturing systems:

  1. Machine Flexibility. It is the ability to adjust a given machine in the system to a wide range of production operations and part styles. The greater the range of operations and part styles of the machine, greater will be the machine flexibility. The various factors on which machine flexibility depends are setup or changeover time, ease with which part-programs can be downloaded to machines, tool storage capacity of machines, and skill and versatility of workers in the systems.
  2. Production Flexibility. It is the range of part styles that can be produced on the systems. The range of part styles that can be produced by a manufacturing system at reasonable cost and time is determined by the process envelope. It depends on many factors that include machine flexibility of individual stations, range of machine flexibilities of all stations in the system.
  3. Mix Flexibility. It is explained as the facility to change the product mix while maintaining the same total production quantity that is, producing the same parts only in different proportions. It is also known as process flexibility. Mix flexibility gives protection against market changeability by accommodating changes in product mix due to the use of shared resources. However, high mix variations may result in requirements for a greater number of tools, fixtures, and other resources. Mixed flexibility depends on factors such as similarity of parts in the mix, machine flexibility, and relative work content times of parts produced.
  4. Product Flexibility. It is an ability to change over to a new set of products economically and rapidly in response to the varying market requirements. The change over time includes the time for designing, planning, tooling, and fixturing of new products introduced in the manufacturing line-up. Product Flexibility depends upon factors like relatedness of new part design with the existing part family. Off-line part program preparation and machine flexibility
  5. Routing Flexibility. It is described as ability to produce parts on alternative workstation in case of equipment breakdowns, tool failure, and other disruptions at any particular station. It helps in increasing output, in the presence of exterior changes such as product mix, engineering changes, or new product introductions. Factors which decides routing flexibility include similarity of parts in the mix, similarity of workstations, and common tooling.
  6. Volume Flexibility. It is the capacity of the system to vary the production volumes of different products to accommodate changes in demand while remaining lucrative. It can also be referred as capacity flexibility. Factors that impact the volume flexibility are level of manual labor performing production, amount invested in capital equipment,
  7. Expansion Flexibility. It is described as the ease with which the system can be expanded to raise total production volume. Expansion flexibility depends on several factors that include cost incurred in adding new workstations and trained workers, easiness in expansion of layout, type of part handling system used.

Flexible manufacturing system guarantees quality product at minimum rate while maintaining small lead-time. Therefore companies adopt Flexible manufacturing system to fulfill growing requirements of customized production. Major objectives of Flexible manufacturing system is to accomplish efficiency of well-balanced transfer line while retaining the flexibility of the job shop (Stecke, 1985). A flexible manufacturing system has four or more processing workstations connected mechanically by a common part handling system and electronically by a distributed computer system. It includes a wide range of manufacturing operations like machining, sheet metal working, welding, fabricating, scheduling and assembly. Using Flexible manufacturing system, companies can produce variety of products without making any changes in the hardware set-up. Consequently, the changeover time between two products can be reduced to the time required by the machine tools to receive the necessary instructions. It also reduces the lead-time drastically.

Various types of flexible manufacturing system include Sequential FMS, Random FMS, Dedicated FMS, Engineered FMS and Modular FMS. Sequential FMS manufactures one-piece part batch type and then planning and preparation is done for the next piece part batch type to be manufactured. It operates like a small batch flexible transfer line. Random FMS manufactures any random mix of piece part types at any one time. Dedicated FMS constantly manufactures, for lengthy periods, the same but limited mix of piece part batch types. Engineered FMS manufactures the same mix of part types throughout its lifetime. Modular FMS enables user to expand their FMS capabilities in a stepwise fashion into any of the earlier four types of FMS.

Developing a flexible manufacturing system:

A company that intend to develop an effective flexible manufacturing system has five major stages of development that include Awareness phase, Planning phase, Procurement phase, Installation phase and Operation phase.

Figure: Phases of the development of F.M.S

Awareness Phase: In this phase, company has to collect all the information it needs to understand the model of flexible manufacturing system and the potential it holds for the company. It must check whether the flexible manufacturing system suits the company's job profile and weather it can derive any significant benefits from it.

Planning Phase: Once the company decides to go forward through flexible manufacturing system planning an F.M.S., which suits its requirements, the first step in this direction would be the setting up of a project team with a project leader to supervise the whole project. The team should perform a financial evaluation of the company before taking any further steps towards the development of the F.M.S. On the basis of evaluation report, the team should articulate a long-term strategy for the effective utilization of the flexible manufacturing system. The team should then select as to which machining processes it must embrace in its F.M.S. to accomplish the job requirement. The F.M.S. that the company develops should be modular in nature, as it would allow the company to add new modules. At the end of the planning phase the team comes out with a concrete set of specifications to go to the procurement phase.

Procurement Phase: The procurement team is assigned with the job of buying all the hardware and software components required for setting up the flexible manufacturing system in the company. For this it selects appropriate suppliers based on certain criteria.

Installation Phase: Once all the components are procured they need to be suitably installed and integrated to form the flexible manufacturing system. To do this, it is vital that the various suppliers and the F.M.S. user be present to sort out any problems that may arise during the integration process. The harmonized efforts from all the parties involved will guarantee a comparatively smooth installation of the flexible manufacturing system. The installation phase involves various tasks that include construction of the F.M.S. site, establishing of the hardware and software components of the system, Integration of components to form the F.M.S., Integration of the other departments to the F.M.S, Planning the test and acceptance methods suitable to all parties and Planning for the training and take-over activities.

Operation Phase: After installation of the F.M.S., operation process begin. During the initial process, errors are likely to appear in the hardware and software. These errors have to be debugged for the smooth operation of the system. With time, flexible manufacturing system, user learns to comprehend the system according to his needs.

The benefits of flexible manufacturing system is its high flexibility in managing manufacturing resources like time and effort in order to manufacture a new product. The best use of flexible manufacturing system is in the production of small products like those from a mass production. Other advantages are Lower cost per unit produced, greater labor productivity, greater machine efficiency, and improved quality, increased system reliability, and reduced parts inventories, adaptability to CAD/CAM operations and shorter lead times. Major drawbacks are Cost to implement, Substantial pre-planning, Requirement of skilled labor and Complicated system. Tactical advantage of flexible manufacturing system is that it is able to tackle the risk caused by ambiguity about the future. It can be done through planning in a way that maintains flexibility of the environment. Although it is difficult to predict the future, one can make estimates of probabilities and proceed in ways to accord with the future.

To sum up, Flexible manufacturing system is highly automated GT machine cell that comprises of group of processing station. Interconnected by automated material handling and storage system and controlled by integrating computer system. It is a flexible system because it is capable of processing numerous different parts style simultaneously at various work station. Flexible manufacturing system is proficient to accommodate engineering and process changes that are responsible to occur during manufacturing. FMS provides flexibility to deal with varied part and product designs, and allows variation in parts' processing sequences and production volume changes. Its efficacious implementation results in improvement of capital utilization, higher profit margins, and increased competitiveness.

wiseGEEK: What is a Flexible Manufacturing System?

A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) is a type of industrial process that allows equipment to be used for more than one purpose, though they may be somewhat related. The equipment is often used to make customized parts, or make different parts for different models of product. This type of system may be changed by hand, but is more likely to be controlled by a computer, and changed through an entirely automated process.

The main goal of a flexible manufacturing system is to offer the speed needed to change with market conditions quickly, but not sacrifice any quality. Equipment that does this most effectively is likely designed for two or more purposes. While it may be possible to modify or retrofit some types of industrial equipment to do a job adequately, most FMS are designed for more than one purpose from the very outset.

Though the equipment for a flexible manufacturing system may initially be more expensive than traditional equipment, the overall goal is to reduce expenses. Manufacturers can save money by using the same equipment to essentially perform two or more functions. With traditional equipment, manufacturing two different products may not only require different pieces of equipment, but also two different lines and perhaps two different facilities. Therefore, this type of system may reduce overhead, despite higher start-up costs initially.

One of the most common examples of a flexible manufacturing system can be seen in the manufacturing of automobiles. Certain equipment is used to attach doors to a sedan. With just a few simple adjustments, that same line and equipment may be used to attach doors to a sport utility vehicle or some other type of vehicle. Often, the switchover can take place with very little disruption to the line, and may even happen during shifts.

In fact, the automobile industry can potentially save a substantial amount of money using a flexible manufacturing system. A report in 2004 indicated that Ford Motor Company saved approximately $2.5 billion US Dollars by putting flexible systems in at five manufacturing plants. The company estimated it can save at least half of the cost of manufacturing updated models using the systems.

In some cases, the machines may not only be used to produce or assemble different parts for different models, but to make customizations. These customizations, without a flexible system in place, would take much longer, and be much more expensive for the customer. Using machines with the ability to be flexible can not only speed the process up, but can improve customer satisfaction by bringing down the price.

3) @lighth0se33 – That makes good sense. I have no idea whether those companies use flexible manufacturing, either, but I do know that Toyota does, and they were one of the first to use it.

My husband works at a Toyota factory, and he frequently uses machines for several different purposes. He just has to change a few settings and move a few things around, but at least he doesn't have to have a totally different machine for everything he needs to do.

Toyota must be doing something right, because my husband has plenty of work to do, and he gets paid good money for doing it. I'm pretty sure the flexible manufacturing system is a part of why the business is doing so well.

2) I wonder if Ford's decision to implement flexible manufacturing systems back in 2004 helped them avoid a financial crisis. Though GM and Chrysler both received government bailout money in 2009, Ford didn't need any federal help.

I don't know if GM and Chrysler use flexible manufacturing or not, but this article does make me wonder if this might be one of Ford's advantages over them. It's a great form of smart money management, regardless of whether it had anything to do with them keeping from going bankrupt when the economy tanked.

1) I would think that more and more automobile makers would be switching to flexible manufacturing technology, as would any other type of industry that could use it. Perhaps the furniture making industry could do so, as well.

Automobile and furniture factories are two of the few types of industries that remain in the U.S. My mother used to work for a shirt factory, an underwear factory, and a golf bag factory, but one by one, they moved overseas so they could save money on cheaper labor.

Perhaps flexible manufacturing systems could save a few of our remaining factories from going to other countries. Any significant amount of money that could be saved in the manufacturing process would likely result in more secure jobs for our citizens.

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