Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: FMS, Flexibility and Socio-organizational Constraints
In contrast to arguments that flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) are highly versatile configurations that are only prevented from machining a wide range of parts by extrinsic constraints, this article contends that FMS are a genre of configurations that combine flexibility and intrinsic constraints in a variety of permutations, depending on a user’s intended objectives. Empirical evidence is used to identify the factors that shape the levels of constraint in particular FMS and to identify instances where intrinsic constraints impede performance. Suggestions are made for initiatives to facilitate the continued use of FMS with the highest levels of intrinsic constraints that have hitherto hindered performance when the FMS users’ manufacturing needs changed. Occupational structures that promote a polarization between staff with engineering knowledge and those responsible for defining general strategic objectives are suggested as a potential obstacle to such initiatives.