A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) is an approach to arranging the production effort of a business so that it is possible to change or adapt manufacturing policies and procedures with relative ease. The idea behind this type of flexibility is often to allow the business to anticipate and shift priorities depending on innovations in technology or shifts in demand for the company’s products. There are a number of benefits and liabilities associated with a flexible manufacturing system that should be considered before attempting to use this approach for company operations.
One of the main benefits of a flexible manufacturing system is the change to adapt the operation to meet emerging demands for certain products by customers. Doing so can aid the business in capturing a significant market share and enjoying increased revenues for as long as the demand for those products remains in place. For example, a textile plant that operates with a flexible manufacturing system may be able to quickly adapt carding and spinning machinery to accommodate the production of corduroy instead of terry cloth, if the general public begins to demand more clothing made with corduroy, then shift back to the production of terry cloth once the trend has subsided.
Another advantage of a flexible manufacturing system is the chance to minimize labor costs during seasonal downturns, then increase the labor force during busy seasons. This approach can be achieved by cross training employees who can take on additional responsibilities during lean seasons, then turn a portion of those responsibilities over to part-time personnel during busy seasons. The end result is an efficient operation that still helps to keep the cost of production for each unit produced under a certain level.
While there are a number of benefits to a flexible manufacturing system, there are also a few potential drawbacks that should be taken into consideration. Converting to this type of arrangement often has a significant up-front cost, since machinery may have to be modified to allow for an easier conversion of goods produced. This approach also often calls for changing the corporate culture, a process that can take a lot of time and result in some loss of efficiency in the short-term. Technological barriers may also slow the efforts to be more adaptable, requiring additional planning to overcome those obstacles and creating additional expense for the company. Before deciding that a flexible manufacturing system is the right option, company owners should weigh the benefits against the liabilities and decide if the effort will ultimately be in the best interests of the company.