The hype of marketers accompanied by the profusion of three letter acronyms (ironically, called TLAS by some) has made it difficult for practicing executives to cut through the clutter of buzzwords and focus on the functionalities of manufacturing tools. As suggested by Baudin (1990) in his Triple flow model, the activities carried out by people in a manufacturing firm can be viewed as a network of flow of materials, money and information. All the manufacturing tools described in this chapter are marketed as a means of controlling material and information flows to give better money flows.
The tools, which would commonly be acknowledged as advanced, can be classified into two broad groups based on their role in manufacturing systems:
Information Management Tools
- Product and process design tools, which are used to create and manipulate data on products and processes. These include Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), Computer Aided Process Planning (CAPP), Product Data Management (PDM) and Group Technology (GT).
- Lean production tools, very often dubbed as Japanese manufacturing techniques or justin- time (JIT) tools, such as the famous kanban.
- Statistical Quality Control (SQC) tools.
- Bar coding systems.
- Decision support, execution and business tools, which are today some of the hottest mantras in the market. These include Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP II), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Supply Chain Management (SCM) solutions and Data Warehousing/Data Mining.
Material Processing and Handling Tools
- Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS), typically consisting of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines, industrial robots, Automatically Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS) systems.
- Lean production tools, Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) and Poka Yoke.
- Rapid Prototyping.
Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) is best viewed as the universal set of which the above tools (with the exception of lean production tools) are a subset. We will focus on the evolution and roles of these tools, without going into technical detail. We will also take a brief look at two technologies-the Internet and groupware-that have opened up a huge arena of possibilities for manufacturers recently. We will conclude by trying to assess the tools, techniques and technologies from an integrated framework.