Operations Systems of the Future

Predicting the future is always risky, but it is nonetheless a fascinating endeavor. We need to think in terms of both manufacturing and non-manufacturing systems. The directions for manufacturing systems, in part because non-manufacturing systems are so diverse

Future manufacturing Systems:

If one takes the approach of forecasting on the basis of trends that are apparent, it seems clear that the automatic factory is a logical expectation at some future date.

The reason for such a prediction is that the product-process technology is already fairly well in place. What remains is the computer integration of decision making and control and the merging of this managerial technology with the product-process technology in a practical operations system that functions automatically, without direct labor. The uncertainty is more in terms of predicting the date than the attainment of the objective, and the date implied is only a broad estimate.

The third part of the prediction at the bottom of the table is the statement that there will be a demand for customization and flexibility, assuming that global markets will continue to be a reality. Note that the arrow points from automatic factory to the characterization of demand. The implication is that an important facet of the capability of the new advanced technologies is in their ability to produce economically in small lots, as small as N = 1. This inherent flexibility provides a revenue producing value that will be exploited, offering flexibility to customers for a price. But competition will then force flexibility and customization as a competitive priority on all producers, incorporating it as an expectation of the market. Thus, the capability of the automatic factory will introduce this new value into the market, and we will enjoy the fruits of custom product designs to a degree not available since the handicraft system was outmoded by the factory system.

The Computer Integrated Factory of the Future:

The system would be linked be computing systems as shown in Figures and would be able to manufacture essentially perfect, customized products with no direct labor required. Each of the six major components communicates with the other components and with corporate headquarters (not shown) through computers.

Orders would be fed by telecommunications networks through the marketing function, providing a crucial link with the customer. The orders could include the customer’s desired customization, in a fashion described by General Motors in connection with its futuristic SATURN project.

New products would be conceived on the CAD system, where libraries of data, previous designs, engineering standards, and so on would be available ad used for efficient and accurate designs. But the design process would not be independent of the manufacturing processes that would be used. The close linking of CAD and CAM provide the unified basis for product design based on both functional and manufacturing considerations. The same data bases would be passed back and forth between product design and production design to ensure the design of the most efficient processes for production.

The CAM data are passed directly to the fabrication section where the computer aided system fabricates the necessary parts, which are then physically transferred to computer aided assembly through robotic materials movement. Quality checks are automatic, as are product tests for performance. Materials are then moved by robots to an automated warehouse where they are packed and shipped or stored automatically if necessary. Storage, however, would not follow the usual pattern. The automated warehouse also functions to supply off the shelf items, which can be order picked automatically, and to store purchased parts for the assembly process, which again would be automatically picked according to the requirements schedule.

Factory management in the futuristic scheme is focused on planning, scheduling, materials management, costs, quality assurance, maintenance, and shipping and distribution.