Today’s global market is considerably different than it was even as early as a decade ago.  We are now in a new, unheralded period – the VUCA era.  The Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity period.  This means a global market looking for products that have changed direction from previous product design.  Now, the ideas of variety, smaller batches and deep customization are de rigeur.  This means a business owner has a much more detailed job ahead of them from meeting the needs of its customer base, maintaining competitive enterprise, market adaptation on the fly and the ever changing flexible supply chain of products coming in with regularity.  This is not a choice.  It is absolutely necessary if the business is going to survive and thrive.

This variation in product capacity is based on the flexible manufacturing capabilities of the manufacturer.  If there is no flexibility in the production capabilities, customers cannot purchase products on a flexible and sliding scale.


What Is a Flexible Manufacturing System?

We have said before that when our purchasing agents look for your specific products, they are looking for the best possible manufacturer.  One of the characteristics we look for is whether or not the manufacturer uses a flexible manufacturing system, FMS.

FMS systems are designed to meet the needs of different types and quantities of their specific products made within the factory.  Specific machinery, computers and software can be programmed in a way to make those products, a key element in private label products.

The system may have several individual workstations with computer terminals.  Each individual station can perform different functions within the overall mass customization process.  Systems are easily programmed to move seamlessly from one set of products to another.  This means making a completely new product from the raw material to final preparation for delivery without need of any major pause in the overall process.

The rise of computers and robotic technology continues to grow exponentially every year.  While there is a rather expensive up front cost, the new technology will pay for itself in the savings recouped with the exceptional flexibility.

The absolute key to remember with FMS is the flexibility of the mass customization.  The system can make adjustments as needed.  The systems can cut, form, weld, join, assemble, test and do inspections.  Systems can also polish, deburr, shave and more – all part of the customer’s specific order.  Best of all, it takes very little human labor to perform most of the tasks, a savings on costs across the board.

All Flexible Manufacturing Systems have failsafes built in for changes, issues and potential problems that may occur during a specific production run.

For any FMS to be considered as truly flexible, flexibility must exist across the entire manufacturing cycle – design to distribution and all spots in between.

Key benefits of flexible manufacturing

Extensive research has gone into the study on benefits and drawbacks of flexibile manufacturing systems.    Many agree that over time the benefits more than outweigh any potential drawbacks of FMS.  Specifically, research has found the following benefits from adopting FMS:

• Less waste from by products of raw materials

• Fewer workstations

• Reduced downtime for manufacturer and labor

• Faster changes for machinery

• Tighter quality control

• Less labor costs

• More efficiency in machinery

• Greater output capacity

• Production flexibility


Drawbacks to flexible manufacturing systems

As we stated above, the advantages clearly outweigh any disadvantages in FMS.  However, the following are considered:

• High initial cost

• Increased need for skilled labor

• Increased pre-planning


The three flexible meanings of FMS

For a decent manufacturer to be truly flexible, there are three specific characteristics your purchasing agent will look for in the manufacturer.  These three elements are a necessary part of the KPI, key performance indicators and mass customization, of the manufacturer.


Fundamental flexibilities

The core machinery within the manufacturer should be able to:

• Perform several operations at a time

• Easily disassembled, moved and repositioned at each individual tool station

• Easily alternative operation steps can be used when building products


System-wide flexibilities

Can the system meet the following:

• Volume – Remains profitable at different order quantities

• Expansion – Expandable as needed

• Routing – Alternative paths for parts in an overall production

• Process – How much can be made at any one time without new setups

• Product – The volume of parts manufacturered with minor setups


Labor flexibilities

Are the employees of the manufacturer:

• Cross trained – Can labor move from one machine or point to another

• Skilled – Is the labor force adept at making necessary simple or complicated repairs

• Scheduled – Does the manufacturer run more than a single shift each day

• Managed – Does the manufacturer have effective leadership in place

All three of these must be in place for a manufacturer to have the certification for FMS.  Missing even one of these will drastically cut the “economy of scale.”  This means at any time there are multiple products in mixed production resulting in a cost that is lower than the cost of products manufacturered separately and at different times within the facility.


Further considerations

When it comes to flexible production capacity, it should be noted that the majority of those manufacturers adopting and using FMS with success are often large-scale enterprises as mentioned above.  Again, the intial investment is substantial and beyond what small to medium sized manufacturers can afford to implement.

Rather than adopt FMS as a production method, many of the smaller manufacturers will look to the economy of scale to remain profitable and competitive within industry niches.

Finally, many manufacturers are limited by raw materials.  Certain barbeque, grill and smoker manufacturers have stringent requirements for steel coils used in production.  These necessities mean many manufacturers simply forgo FMS in favor of traditional manufacturing.


Final thoughts

Sourcing Nova reminds you we are always looking for the best possible manufacturer of your products with a particular emphasis on manufacturers of top global brands.  We have found those manufacturers adopting and using FMS have much higher profit margins for you and your business.  What products can we source for you?  Let us know below, and we will get back to you quickly.