First of all, FMS is a manufacturing technology. Secondly, FMS is a philosophy. “System” is the key word. Philosophically, FMS incorporates a system view of manufacturing. The keyword for today’s manufacturer is “agility”. Who is an agile manufacturer? An agile manufacturer is one who is the fastest to the market, operates with the lowest total cost and has the greatest ability to “delight” its customers. FMS is simply one way that manufacturers are able to achieve this agility. 

There are four types of flexibilities:

  1. Volume flexibility
  2. Manufacturing flexibility
  3. Delivery flexibility
  4. Mix flexibility

Definition of FMS

FMS is defined as a group of processing work stations interconnected by means of an automated material handling and storage system and controlled by integrated computer control system. The reason why FMS is called flexible is due to the reason that it is capable of handling and processing a variety of parts and the rate of production can be adjusted as per the market demands. 

A typical arrangement of FMS is depicted in the figure below:


Basic components of Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS)

There are three basic components of FMS:

  1. Workstations
  2. Automated material handling and storage system
  3. Computer control system

Workstations are typically computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools that perform various machining operations of different part families. Nowadays, FMS are being designed with inspection stations, assembly works and sheet metal presses etc.

Automated material handling and storage systemare used to move parts between processing stations, which sometimes have storage functions incorporated. The functions of automated material handling and storage system are:

  • random and independent movement of parts between various workstations
  • handling of a variety of part families and configurations
  • facilitating temporary storage
  • compatibility with computer control

Computer control system is used to coordinate and manage the various activities in between workstations in the FMS. The various functions of computer control system are:

  • controlling each work station
  • production control
  • control of transportation of parts in between workstations
  • system performance monitoring and reporting

Different approaches to flexibility

1. Manufacturing flexibility: It is the flexibility to produce different parts withour major retooling and is a measure of how fast a company converts its process from making an old line of products to produce a new product. There are further three levels of flexibility in manufacturing flexibility: 

  • Machine flexibility
  • Material handling flexibility
  • Operation flexibility

2. Operational flexibility: It is the ability to produce highly customizable and unique line of products.

3. Customer flexibility: It is the ability to exploit various dimension of speed of delivery.

4. Strategic flexibility: It is the ability of a company to offer a variety of products to its customers.

5. Capacity flexibility: It is the ability to vary, i.e. increase or decrease, levels of production or to quickly shift production capacity from one product to another. 

In the next article, we will talk about Different types and layout for FMS.