In recent years, flexible manufacturing systems have become a significant part of manufacturing businesses around the world, as they offer a number of production benefits and help companies achieve greater success in improving speed of delivery. Wikipedia defines a flexible manufacturing system as one in which there is some amount of flexibility which allows the system to react in case of changes, whether predicted or unpredicted. These systems are designed to quickly adapt to changes within the production process when unexpected issues or problems occur, giving organizations the freedom to create products quickly and more efficiently.
As their name implies, flexible manufacturing systems offer flexibility in terms of both machinery and routing. Machine flexibility refers to the system’s ability to adapt to the creation of new product types while also changing the order of operations for a specific part when necessary. The second category, routing flexibility, is the ability of a system to use many machines to perform the same operations on one part. Routing flexibility decides how much a system can adapt to changes in terms of volume, capacity, or capability.
There are a few things to consider before implementing a flexible manufacturing system.
- It is important to note that substantial planning is required for setting up a flexible manufacturing system, as the production process can be complicated. Utmost care should be taken when creating detailed designs and schedules.
- Highly skilled employees are required to operate these systems. Given their complexity, a different set of skilled workers are needed for maintenance and repairs. Compensation for these skilled employees can be quite costly.
- Above all, the initial setup cost for implementing flexible manufacturing system is also high.
- Lastly, purchasing or adapting machinery to the system in the future will be expensive.
For these reasons, these systems are better suited for big manufacturing organizations with enough money to invest in the systems and maintain them.
Benefits of a Flexible Manufacturing System
Although the disadvantages of flexible manufacturing systems could make some companies wary, their benefits can outweigh their drawbacks in the long run.
- Flexible manufacturing systems are expensive to implement at first. However, in the long run they will help save money because of their ability to adjust to meet customer needs without compromising the capabilities of the company.
- If something within the process changes, these systems can easily adapt and keep production flowing to reduce delays and bottlenecks. This helps to ensure faster production times and, as a result, increase customer service and satisfaction. Hence, the biggest benefit of flexible manufacturing systems is that they help processes become more efficient.
- Moreover, the systems reduce operation costs as they adapt to changes, helping to prevent the production of defective products. Because these systems are automated, they require fewer workers to operate them so companies can save on labor costs.
- Flexible manufacturing helps reduce waste, as it follows one of the principles of lean manufacturing.
Though costly at first, implementing flexible manufacturing systems is an excellent decision which will help manufacturers create better products, become more efficient, and increase revenue in the future.