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28 April 2014: Edgar Dietrich & Stephan Sprink

Flexible manufacturing, another term for agile manufacturing, is an alternative to part-specific transfer lines for mass production. The advantage is a high flexibility of parts which makes it easier to react to changes in the production processes and allows for the manufacturing of several product variants virtually at the same time. Additionally, it raises equipment availability and the interchangeability of machines.

The following engine manufacturing example (here: cylinder head) illustrates the exponentially increasing data traffic caused by the flexibility and variety of components in agile manufacturing, but it also explains how data traffic still remains controllable. Especially the different perceptions of these data provide a deep insight into machine behavior and help you assess product quality.

Classical engine manufacturing performs the single operations by means of a clocked transfer line. Changes caused by new characteristic specifications are hard and time-consuming to implement. Besides, there are only few product variants that can be produced in the same production line.

Agile manufacturing performs the same operations as the classical manufacturing, indeed, but the flexibility is much higher. There are several identical machines for certain operations and some of them possibly include more than 50 tools. So the same machine performs several operations. The equipment availability controls, as needed, which type of machine performs which operation with the cylinder head. A machine park is thus able to process different types of cylinders and variants of a cylinder type.

This highly flexible processing of parts leads to two essential questions:

  1. The question alone as to whether a machine or all machines of a machine park are capable or suitable seems to be a problem that can hardly be solved. Compared to a transfer line, you cannot produce e.g. 50 parts, measure the characteristics and analyze capability. Indeed, you can produce 50 parts in agile manufacturing; however, you may only reach a small fraction of all available operations. Otherwise, this situation would require a massive effort to perform the respective options 50 times and this effort is not justifiable for reasons of time and for financial reasons.
  2. How can you monitor agile manufacturing in order to ensure that all characteristics are processed correctly at any time?

You may answer these questions due to the right perception of the products to be manufactured and the respective process steps...

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