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Reconfigurability Still Figures Big in Manufacturing


By Ellen Kehoe
Senior Editor

Reconfigurable manufacturing’s guru for more than 20 years, Professor Yoram Koren, presented the latest progress and challenges related to capacity planning and scalability in his keynote presentation April 29 at the CIRP Conference on Manufacturing Systems (CMS 2014) held April 28-30 at the University of Windsor (ON). Koren, the James J. Duderstadt Distinguished University Professor of Manufacturing at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), noted the local proximity of one of the first implementations of reconfigurable manufacturing—at Ford Motor Co.’s Windsor engine plant in 2000.

While planning and investing capital and space for future plant capacity can be likened to buying insurance, the opportunity for scalability only exists when proper capacity is in reserve and the plant can be readily transformed for higher productivity. Design for scalability requires optimization that integrates configuration planning with line balancing to determine where to allow for new resources.

Manufacturing system cost vs. capacity. FMS--flexible manufacturing system, RMS--reconfigurable manufacturing system. (Fig. 3 of Y. Koren and M. Shpitalni, Design of reconfigurable manufacturing systems, Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 29(4), 2010.)

Koren defines the optimal steps as: design the system for change in its capacity, install just the resources needed and then add resources exactly when needed. He emphasizes that planning for scalability requires investment, whether it’s buying additional machines that may sit idle on the sidelines or leaving physical space on a serial line for modular CNC units or for adding a parallel line.

The serial vs. parallel and space planning decisions often depend on the part being produced. Parallel production lines are more desirable for efficiency, but they can be more expensive and are less scalable as they grow in length. Too many parallel lines and machines, too, can result in quality problems due to variations in tolerances over many machines.

Implementing reconfigurable manufacturing remains a challenge in assembly operations, where fewer standardized modules are available and where the methodology becomes more about adding people rather than simply inserting machines. Another issue is what to do with machines that are “unplugged” from a line.

Koren’s research and industry collaboration on reconfigurable manufacturing has led to many innovations and successful implementations. Chrysler Corp.’s Kokomo, IN, transmission plant, turning out 400,000 units/year, is one example of the methodology’s impact on productivity. As the enabler for scalable manufacturing, reconfigurability also will enhance sustainability.

Published Date : 5/2/2014

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