Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What is a Manufacturing System - Part I

This is a post that is long overdue. A central discussion topic on this blog is Manufacturing Systems and I have not yet really explained what I mean by a Manufacturing System. I have talked about manufacturing system that are agile and Holonic, so it is about time that I posted a more practical or at least clear description of what I mean.

Most definitions of Manufacturing System are focused on describing a solution, or more precisely the functionality and architecture of a Manufacturing System solution. For example the MESA model presents number of functional categories from a business perspective, where as the ISA-95 (S-95) model provides a solution architecture based on functional decomposition. All these are of course relevant and useful yet it seems that the problem only interesting to academia – try to Google it. It is assumed that we in industry all know what it is – a dangerous proposition to have.

We all agree that the key to a successful deployment of a Manufacturing System is the understanding of the problem that it is designed to solve. This obviously not a novel approach – it is what everybody attempts to do with the system’s requirement or URS. Yet my experience shows that even in the requirement phase many resort to using the existing models, thus reverting to describe the problem with the solution itself. Quite confusing isn’t it?

So here is my take on what a Manufacturing System is, or in other words the Shop Floor Management Problem. I like to describe it as the problem of integrating 3 important flows in a manufacturing organization. The 2 vertical flows provide Product and Logistical information while the horizontal flow is the physical flow of material, equipment and people.

The Shop Floor Management problem is therefore: How to make use of the information provided by the Product and Logistical flow to efficiently and effectively manage the physical flow of Resources and Materials (also known as the production process). Simple isn’t it - that is what a Manufacturing System is designed to do. Try to imagine a seasoned and effective production supervisor or plant manager – the Shop Floor Management problem is very close to his real life job duties.

It is obviously not that simple and there is of course much more detail that is yet to be discussed. I plan to provide some of this in upcoming posts (hence this post is named Part I). Also this is not meant to take away from the importance and complexity of product development, process engineering, operations, and planning. It is a model that is focused on explaining the particulars of managing a shop floor (yes this is my disclaimer).

More detail to come in future posts…

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