The term “flexibility” is extensively used in manufacturing literature and yet very loosely defined. Sometimes it is used to characterise a manufacturer′s strategic intention and other times to characterise the manufacturer′s processes and infrastructure. The terms “strategic flexibility” and “operational flexibility” are introduced to distinguish these two uses. Six different categories of activity are examined that a manufacturer may undertake to enhance its operational flexibility and it is pointed out that machine and equipment configuration – often considered to be the key to manufacturing flexibility by factory automation enthusiasts – is just one of these six categories. It is also pointed out that such activities can be found not only on the factory floor, but everywhere in the manufacturer′s value chain. It is argued that these activities will not only enhance the manufacturer′s operational flexibility, but also enhance its productivity as well and therefore will benefit all manufacturing enterprises, regardless of their strategic intentions.
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