Manufacturing companies' business challenges
haven't changed much over the years. Survival, profit, growth,
service, quality, and productivity are still important drivers of
the business. What has changed is the focus on time as a strategic
competitive weapon to meet these challenges. As Tom Peters puts it
in Time-Obsessed Competition, "Competing in time will
be the primary battleground of the 1990s ... time-based
revolutions ... are redefining entire industries and putting
competitors out of business."
The objective of this paper is to illustrate
why traditional systems approaches are no longer sufficient when
competing against time. We will explain why a new proactive,
time-critical approach to systems is needed to maximize results
and achieve a truly significant competitive advantage.
The Need to Reintegrate
Computer-Integrated Manufacturing is a term
that was first introduced in a book of the same title by Dr.
Joseph Harrington, Jr., back in 1974. He had hoped the term would
not create another acronym. However, CIM is in common use today.
Later, he explained that the term integration should more
appropriately have been reintegration. Over the past 200
years manufacturing has become fragmented and dis-integrated. As
demand grew for more product volume, manufacturing evolved from
its simplest form of CIM (Craftsman-Integrated Manufacturing,
where a single craftsman integrated muscle skill and know-how to
make a product) to an organization where labor was divided and
specialized and where coordination and communication became more
difficult. Major gaps in time and information have crept into the
process causing increased delays, reduced flexibility, and slower
responsiveness. Later, computerization only made things worse by
batching information and creating islands of automation that
provided information too late to be effective or useful.
In the 1990s, we see manufacturing enterprises
trying to use mechanization, automation, and computerization to
reintegrate manufacturing. By reintegrating, manufacturers
attempt to create a synergy by combining the unity, strength, and
flexibility of the craftsman with the capacity for volume and
productivity of modern technology. Reintegration is a process of
getting back to doing business on a real-time, integrated and
A major challenge to reintegration, however, is
that most systems approaches, even those touting the latest flash
and sizzle technologies, aren't up to the task. This is because
they are fundamentally reactive in nature. They fail to provide
the right information fast enough to solve problems as they are
Continuous Improvement of Systems
From the 1960s through the 1980s, many of us
lived through Continuous Improvement as our systems strategies
have evolved to meet the increased competitive pressures placed on
manufacturers (Figure 1).
In the early days of computerization,
manufacturers implemented survival systems such as basic inventory
accounting (to know what was on hand) and order point (which acted
as a reactive reorder
Figure 1. Continuous
trigger). Next, they began to proactively plan
material with MRP (Material Requirements Planning).
MRP helped create great plans but we soon
learned that to plan was easy—to close the loop and control
execution of the plan was the tough part. We then integrated
capacity planning, priority dispatching, input/output control, and
financial control under the MRP II (Manufacturing Resource
Planning) umbrella. Pretty soon vendor scheduling and electronic
data interchange became more widespread and the practice of
frequent scheduling revisions was amplified. At the same time,
American firms relearned what they taught the Japanese.
Work-in-process queues were declared evil and were reduced,
surfacing problems with setup and quality. Just-in-Time principles
became,the leading-edge approach to eliminating waste and
simplifyingV'ork. The Total Quality Management (TQM) crusade
also became popular around this time.
In the 1980s, we also witnessed more aspects of
CIM (Computer-Integrated Manufacturing) become reality. All too
often, however, CIM remained merely a vision sold to
manufacturers by consultants and the technology industry.
As companies searched for panaceas by attempting to use these
strategies, they usually found that they all suffered from a
similar Achilles' heel. The systems in place to support the
concepts and strategies had not kept pace and actually became
limiting factors. Time-Critical Manufacturing is the next step in
To be Continued
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