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Flexible Manufacturing supports Mass Customization and Build-to-Order by enabling the on-demand manufacture of a variety of parts and products.

For fabricated products, all operations can be performed flexibly without setup delays or extra costs. Here are some examples of flexible part manufacture:

Flexible CNC. All CNC machine tools (even the ones you are using in a batch mode)
are capable of fabricating families of parts. Source of image right: Haas Automation of Oxnard, CA:9AD41E98 https://www.haascnc.com/index.html

Three elements enable this flexibility:

1) Standard raw materials that are supplied spontaneously (see below) so that they are always available to avoid procurement delays.
2) CNC programs can be instantly retrieved or generated “on the fly.”
3) Setup or workholding delays are eliminated with cellular manufacturing cells (next)

For Electronics Products.    These principles also apply to electronics products, since Printed Circuit Boards are also built by CNC machine tools that can place a variety of comments onto versatile “bare boards” (point #1 above) using quickly  loaded programs (point #2) onto standard panels or standard material handling rail widths (point #3).

Cellular Manufacture

Source Cells can cut parts or material “blanks” to-order for fabrication cells or assembly lines.
        The illustration shows a source cell for sheet metal. If raw material can be standardized on one gauge, then the standard gauge can be fed from a coil, for substantial raw material savings. This also results in better nesting of part shapes and avoids the very wasteful practice of trying to cut part shapes out of 4' x 8' sheets and trying to get any more use out of the  remnants  left over.
          Source cells can programmable cut on-demand all the shapes of that gauge for the entire factory, and could even become a supplier for other factories who would appreciate fast delivery of low-volume/high-mix blanks at low-cost with no inventory at their shop or their suppliers'. This would help justify the investment for the roll feeder.

Flexible Fixtures. For each machine tool, flexible fixtures can be concurrently engineered to instantly accept any part or raw material “blank” in the part family in any volume, down to one piece; The illustration shows the flexible fixture principle for milled parts.  Similar flexible fixtures can be structured for cylindrical parts for lathes (not shown).

      The illustration at the right shows four flexible fixtures on one milling machine  bed in which each fixtures allows instant positioning and quick clamp down of any part in the families, shown by different sizes in different colors.   All parts in all families can be  positioned quickly against the horizontal "X" datum bar and the vertical "y" datum bar and the machine tool bed, which is e "Z" datum (out of image).  Note that the center of the milling machine bed can still be used for general machining or for other fixtures.

Spontaneous Supply Chains

Standard parts and materials, mentioned above, can be procured spontaneously without forecasts, inventory, or waiting for ordered parts to arrive, as described at: http://www.build-to-order-consulting.com/supply_chain.htm  and delivered “dock to line” so they are always available at all points of use, instead of the common mass-production practice of sending all parts and materials to the Receiving Department where they are “kitted” into a batch for scheduled batch production runs.
     The article at: http://www.build-to-order-consulting.com/kanban.htm shows automatic resupply techniques such as kanban, steady flows, min/max, and breadtruck (free stock). Two-bin kanbans can range from pairs of cardboard bins to pairs of truck trainers, where one bin or truck trailer is in use and the other is going back to “the source,” which could be a supplier or a manufacturing cell.

The author of this article, Dr. David M. Anderson, can be reached at 805-924-0100 or

He has published dozens of articles that are posted at www.design4manufacturability.com , www.HalfCostProducts.com, and www.build-to-order-consulting.com

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. David M. Anderson, P.E.

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