During the past fifty years, continuous flow
manufacturers have led American industry in automating plant
operations and adopting new systems, with one exception—MRP
II. On the surface, the marriage of continuous flow and MRP II
would appear to be a natural fit. A shallow bill of material with
relatively few raw materials represents a simple analytical model
for computerized planning. However, continuous flow manufacturers
have until recently steered clear of MRP II for a variety of
reasons, including the inability to cost justify it, the lack of
continuous flow functionality, and the perception that MRP II is
an expensive IS toy with no application in the world of process
controllers and DCS.
The objective of this paper is to make clear
why continuous flow manufacturers are now embracing MRP II, and to
examine the benefits they are achieving. First, continuous flow
industries are identified and continuous flow characteristics are
explained. Differences are drawn between continuous flow
manufacturing, batch processing, and repetitive manufacturing.
Then, computer system requirements are explored, both in general
terms, and in terms of specific MRP II package requirements.
Finally, benefits which are being obtained by these industries are
discussed. MRP II is successfully being used to improve multiplant
planning, to enable better sourcing decisions, to improve raw
materials and finished goods inventory control, and to improve
cost identification and control.
Despite the popular view of continuous flow
manufacturing as "steady state" processing in which
every variable is controlled to the ninth decimal place, there are
many opportunities for improvement in the areas of capacity
planning, inventory control, and costing. Process manufacturers
recognize this and are implementing CIM and ERP programs on a
broad scale, at divisional levels as well as corporate-wide. In
all cases they realize that MRP II plays a key role as the
foundation of an integrated environment.
Continuous Flow Characteristics
Continuous flow manufacturing is found in a
wide variety of industries, and always involves the manufacture of
bulk product for immediate sale, for further processing, or for
packaging. Any further generalizations are tough, because there
are more differences than similarities among flow processors,
especially when compared across industry verticals like chemicals,
foods, and textiles. However, the choice to use a continuous flow
process is always the logical outcome of a decision that takes
into account product attributes, process economics, and market
Industries that perform continuous flow
manufacturing can be categorized by type of process—e.g.,
refining (petroleum, sugar), milling (rice, corn, wheat), weaving
(cotton, silk, polyester), and coating (steel, paper). Other
processes common to continuous flow manufacturing include
distillation, thermal cracking, reduction, bleaching, grading,
carding, spinning, and splitting. In terms of Standard Industry
Classifications (SIC), continuous flow is found in major industry
groups 20 (food), 22 (textiles), 24 (lumber), 26 (paper), 28
(chemicals), 29 (petroleum), 30 (rubber and plastics), 32 (glass),
and 33 (primary metals).
Continuous flow manufacturers can be found throughout the
world, but processing plants tend to be clustered in regional
pockets. For example, because they often require large quantities
of water either as a formula ingredient or for cooling purposes,
plants are commonly located along rivers. Chemical and steel
plants can be found strung along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers,
which also serve to support barge traffic of raw materials. Plants
are also located where natural resources are plentiful, like
trees, cotton, grain, petroleum, and fish. Other determining
factors in the location of plants includes the ability to minimize
transportation costs, and the availability of inexpensive labor.
To be Continued
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