Flexibility is a fundamental performance objective for manufacturing operations, allowing them to respond to changing requirements in uncertain and competitive global markets. Additive manufacturing machines are often described as “flexible,” but there is no detailed understanding of such flexibility in an operations management context. The purpose of this paper is to examine flexibility from a manufacturing systems perspective, demonstrating the different competencies that can be achieved and the factors that can inhibit these in commercial practice.
This study extends existing flexibility theory in the context of an industrial additive manufacturing system through an investigation of 12 case studies, covering a range of sectors, product volumes, and technologies. Drawing upon multiple sources, this research takes a manufacturing systems perspective that recognizes the multitude of different resources that, together with individual industrial additive manufacturing machines, contribute to the satisfaction of demand.
The results show that the manufacturing system can achieve seven distinct internal flexibility competencies. This ability was shown to enable six out of seven external flexibility capabilities identified in the literature. Through a categorical assessment the extent to which each competency can be achieved is identified, supported by a detailed explanation of the enablers and inhibitors of flexibility for industrial additive manufacturing systems.
Additive manufacturing is widely expected to make an important contribution to future manufacturing, yet relevant management research is scant and the flexibility term is often ambiguously used. This research contributes the first detailed examination of flexibility for industrial additive manufacturing systems.
Eyers, D.R., Potter, A.T., Gosling, J. and Naim, M.M. (2018), "The flexibility of industrial additive manufacturing systems", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 38 No. 12, pp. 2313-2343. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-04-2016-0200
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