Flexible Manufacturing Systems
One of the most important aspects of manufacturing is having a sound flexible manufacturing system. The ability to adjust to meet the customer needs without compromising the capabilities of the company is flexible manufacturing. It is crucial in today’s world to avoid buying or using equipment monuments. These include anything that cannot be moved without extreme amounts of time, support, and expense. Monuments oppose manufacturing flexibility. They typically have one purpose in mind and don’t adjust well to design changes as easily as multi-functional systems.
More and more equipment is getting smaller to fit the size and needs of the products. Flexible manufacturing is one of the principles of lean manufacturing to help reduce waste. Equipment that can be tweaked, adjusted, or rebuilt to fit the needs of other products is cost effective. To buy expensive equipment built by someone else and thrown away after the product has seen its end, is a detriment to a company’s pocket book.
Some of the first effective flexible systems were adopted by Toyota. They were able to apply the concepts at a very basic level after World War II. Having been wiped clean of all infrastructures, they had the opportunity to see the benefits very quickly. The concepts did not start in Japan. They actually started in the United States, but much of the U.S. auto industry was too invested in their equipment monuments to change them. Under intense pressure from the accounting budgets, U.S. auto makers needed to see a return on their investment. Over time that did change and today the U.S. auto makers and other manufacturing industries are taking hold of flexible manufacturing systems. Companies like Setpoint are using flexible systems to change the way they do business. The time it takes to change a production line is vastly improving.
Challenges and Goals
Companies face different challenges when trying to adjust to meet demand. If a company decides to choose automated assembly equipment versus equipment that requires a large work force to keep moving, they are faced with a fine investment line. If the automated system is difficult to change then regardless of how often the product changes, the costs can be overwhelming. The best automated systems are those which have little change over time and run very large product batches. This doesn’t mean the company is batching to produce. They may have a great deal of customer demand bringing their output into the thousands to millions. More and more corporations are buying simple three to five axes robots that require little to no programming. These new sophisticated robots are able to build their own programs after they are given simple locations to remember. Robots are ideal if they perform easy tasks such as moving a part or performing an operation that gets repeated over and over. People can be used in more challenging roles that can also provide more satisfaction in their work. Automated manufacturing systems are changing and become more flexible with help from smart robots and smaller equipment. Less is more when applied to fixturing for manufacturing.
Today company’s such as Setpoint are leading the way into the coming future. Some important goals to achieve are:
- Quick changeovers
- Simple setups
- Adjustable equipment
- Smart robots
- Reduced inventory
- Producing to demand
- Satisfied employees
- Balance between automated versus manual systems
- Lean achievements through constant learning