Flexibility continues to be key to the competitiveness of manufacturing firms. However, both in academia and industry, there still exists a lack of understanding regarding the fundamental nature of flexibility. This lack of understanding has often led to overly optimistic expectations regarding the direct transformation of technological flexibility into manufacturing flexibility. A theoretical model of the firm, based on cybernetics, is proposed in this paper.
The model relates flexibility to the cybernetic concept of variety and examines a dynamic system in terms of its task structure.
The model proves useful both in dispelling some of the misconceptions regarding flexibility, and in providing practical insights into issues of designing flexible manufacturing organizations.
The paper presents a means by which variety can be measured.
The conceptual model clarifies certain aspects of system flexibility. The first implication is that the flexibility required at a node is not fixed, but dependent on its connection with other nodes. The degree to which the interconnected nodes are effective regulators determines the variety impinging upon the target node. The second implication is that variety reduction is often a preferred solution over increased variety handling. The third implication is that the seemingly peculiar finding that relatively inflexible nodes in combination can be quite flexible, is easily explained using this theoretical model of the firm. System flexibility depends more on each node possessing requisite variety than on each possessing an enormous number of responses.
Scala, J., Purdy, L. and Safayeni, F. (2006), "Application of cybernetics to manufacturing flexibility: a systems perspective", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 22-41. https://doi.org/10.1108/17410380610639489Download as .RIS
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