Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems: how to enable flexibility Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS) are attractive options to handle mass personalization, as the system can be continuously reconfigured in accordance with the demanded volumes and products, although the development of Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems is a particularly challenging task compared to the development of a traditional manufacturing system. Indeed, mass personalization can be considered one of the main drivers of Industry 4.0: to stay competitive, organizations needs to increase their flexibility in terms of both product variation and throughput.
How to achieve flexibility without increasing the final cost?
Depending on the business, there are different ways to achieve such flexibility. In this post, I will introduce 3 technologies to enable Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems. A simple way is to introduce robots, or cobots within a manufacturing cell. The word “cobot” stands for “collaborative robot”: in simple words, a cobot is a robot which can work in synergy with humans without any safety issue. Robots are becoming more performant, flexible and cost effective than in the past, therefore they represent a sensible technology to invest in. Yet, if your company produces machined components, you might consider to introduce multi-tasking machines in your production system. Briefly, multi-tasking machines combine features of different machines in one single platform, basically an all-in-one solution. Benefits are:
- 1 single set up
- lower footprint
- standard tools
On the other hand:
- higher initial capital investment is required
- typically, they imply longer cycle time
Due to the increasing accuracy that these machines are achieving, multi-tasking machines are becoming a hot topic. Nowadays, these machines are exploited in markets previously unthinkable, such high precision gear machining. The last technology which enables Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems is machine readable marking methods. This is probably the simplest, but also the most effective solution with the widest range of application. Machine readable marking methods include, but not limited to:
- Bar code
- QR code
- Data Matrix code
This solution enables production systems to switch from 1 part to another in a simple, quick and easy way. However, these are just three examples of technology to increase your production system flexibility.
A general approach to develop Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems
A more general approach to design and develop Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems can be found in an article by Andersen (Andersen A-L et al, Prerequisites and Barriers for the Development of Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems for High Speed Ramp-up, 3rd International Conference on Ramp-up Management (ICRM), Procedia CIRP 51 ( 2016 ) 7–12). In fact, he provided a list of design and development prerequisites to implement RMSs:
- Have a life-cycle perspective on production systems: 3 main challenges have been identified
- reuse of production equipment. Reusing manufacturing equipment for new generations of products is more complicated than building new and improved version of the system
- division of responsibilities between development teams and operations: a closer integration between development and operations is required
- define the requirements imposed on the production system throughout its lifetime: predicting potential change over a period longer than few years is highly difficult, in particular in term of volume trends, the timing of new product introductions, and the type of product introduction. This requires commitment and involvement from the highest level of management, as they are the primary sources to assessing strategically dependent drivers of change
- Correlation between production system design and product portfolio development and existence of product families: as point 3 in the previous prerequisite, this is a high complicated task, with element that simply can’t be predicted. For this reason, the tendency is to think that everything should be as changeable as possible
- Long-term view on investments: this is necessary to be able to gradually scale production capacity and in order to be able to reconfigure the production system
- Structured system design process: as the process of design RMSs involves higher complexity than traditional manufacturing systems, it is mandatory to have a structured design process. In most structured companies, a stage-gate approach is usually applied
- Holistic production system view: it means to involve considering human, logical and physical reconfigurations in the design stage;
- Knowledge and skills related to reconfigurability: although this is a vital first step towards the successful implementation of RMS, it is generally recognized a lack of understanding of what reconfigurability is and how it differs from general flexibility.
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Flexibility is the new paradigm of new Production Systems. This is mainly due to the increase of products variation and throughput that the market is requiring. Generally speaking, Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems provide a solution without increasing costs (in some cases the final solution is even more cost effective). A general approach to RMSs is described by Andersen, who provided a list of design and development prerequisites to implement RMSs. Please don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter. Stay tuned.