The article that is being critiqued is authored by Robert P Duimering, Frank Safayeni, and Lyn Purdy and titled “Integrated Manufacturing: Redesign the Organization before Implementing Flexible Technology”. This article was published in the Sloan Management Review journal in its summer 1993 issue, volume 34, issue 4, pages 47 to 56.
To summarize the main points of the article: the authors of this paper argue that the use of flexible technology in organizations needs to be adopted with caution and pre-planning or they would defeat the very purpose for which they are designed. The authors examine two such technologies: the Just in Time manufacturing system or JIT and the Computer-Integrated Manufacturing or CIM. JIT is a system that was developed by Toyota and makes use of inventory control and simplification of processes. CIM is a completely computer controlled system that makes use of inter-departmental networking and information regulation. The main objective of both these systems is decreasing the throughput time. The authors maintain that although these systems may seem more advantageous when compared to their downsides, the organizations should not adopt these systems blindly without extensive re-organization to suit them and render them more effective. JIT underscores the reduction of variability by generating an environment to make it more manageable, whereas CIM accentuates the handling or management of variability.
I agree with the authors’ contention that managers tend to generally assume that both these systems would not only improve productivity and competitiveness of the manufacturing processes but also enhance the quality of the product, higher integration of the organization and increased responsiveness and flexibility in manufacturing. However this assumption is supported by other authors, such as Kim and Lee (1989) who argue that there is strong empirical evidence to support the contention that a combination of CIM and JIT would lead to a significant improvement in the productivity as well as the competitiveness of an organization. However, Duimering et al add a word of caution to the effect that these managers do not take into consideration the variability factors that could impact on the manufacturing processes and the organization as a whole, such as machine breakdowns, absenteeism or market fluctuations. The authors suggest that before investing in such expensive flexible technologies, the organizations would do well to examine and correct the variability produced by the various inter-dependent functional units and make use of flexible technology only as a fallback to manage those variables that cannot be otherwise corrected.
The authors have not given much emphasis to the fact that many organizations tend to restrict human operators to simple and routine tasks when they invest in flexible technologies and that the organizations who wish to decrease variability should first explore the human factor and the effective manner in which it could identify and find the means of correcting variability issues that concern their work environment. In fact, it should be added that enhancing the skill-sets of the employees to include technical, conceptual, analytical and problem-solving skills is more important in the integrated flexible manufacturing environment than in the more traditional one (Gunawardan, 2006).
There is some ambiguity in the authors’ statement that “Each unit must balance its needs with the variability it generates by meeting those needs.” They illustrate their opinion by providing an example where manufacturing has to offset the increased breakdowns and maintenance that follow more refined and complex production processes, just as design has to make provisions for the effect that improved product design features may have on the manufacturing and other processes. However, both these would mean a larger investment in time, money as well as effort and as the authors themselves admit, would lead to the restriction of changes.
One of the main assumptions of Duimering et al., is that the most effective method of managing variability would be to integrate units organizationally in order to increase feedback and decrease the impact of the variability of one another and change to a product-based organizational structure in place of a function-based one. However, it is apparent that this would mean that the functions such as the procurement, manufacturing, designing and marketing functions of each product should be grouped together for greater integration and coordination. Such grouping would also mean that more units of the same functional structures would have to be put into place to cater to the different products. I think that this would lead to isolation of each product team from the others and there could be confusion due to the divergence of goals. The overall organizational goals may also be affected. If the CIM and JIT are to be adopted to achieve greater integration, such isolating measures would defeat the very purpose.
This is one of the earliest articles on the adoption of flexible systems in manufacturing organizations. In spite of the minor flaws, the article serves as an object lesson for managers who are planning to introduce these systems in their organization.
Duimering, P. R., Safayeni, F., & Purdy, L. (1993). Integrated Manufacturing: Redesign the Organization before Implementing Flexible Technology. Sloan Management Review, 34(4), 47-56.
Gunawardan, K. D. (2006). Introduction of Advanced Manufacturing Technology: a literature review. Sabaragamuwa University Journal, 6(1), 116-134.
Kim, G. C., & Lee, S. M. (1989). Impact of Computer Technology on the Implementation of Just-in-time Production Systems. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 9(8), 20 - 39.