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Computer integrated manufacturing.

Computer Integrated Manufacturing

Use it for developing a strategic advantage

Today's industrial enterprise represents a complex organization--one that brings together people, resources, and facilities in order to develop, manufacture, and market products profitably. In order to maintain its profitability, the enterprise must also have the flexibility to react to changing market conditions.

The first step in achieving such flexibility is establishing an information system that can be reshaped whenever necessary. This system will be capable of responding to the changing requirements of the enterprise and the environment. What's more, this reshaping must be accomplished with minimal cost and disruption to the enterprise.

No doubt automation will play a key role in this information system. But automation alone cannot shorten lead times, reduce inventories, and minimize excess capacity to the extent required by today's enterprise. This can only be accomplished by integrating information throughout the enterprise. The result is that individual departments will be able to work, communicate, and respond as a team.

In order to develop an information system that will achieve these objectives, the enterprise must start with a long-range architectural strategy--one that provides a foundation which accommodates today's necessities as well as taking tomorrow's needs into account. These include supporting new users; accomodating new business and manufacturing processes; incorporating new data functions, hardware, and technology; and establishing new data bases and distribution channels.

Some companies are attempting to implement such a strategy and are basing it on Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM).


The world is in the early stages of a new industrial era that is marked by international competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence in manufacturing. Of the tools needed to achieve such excellence, there is one tool that surpasses the others: the application of computer-based technology to manufacturing in the form of CIM.

In any manufacturing enterprise there is a unique set of business processes that is performed in order to design, produce, and market the enterprise's products. But no matter how unique an enterprise or its set of processes, every enterprise shares the same set of high-level objectives. These objectives encompass the following:

* manage manufacturing, finance, and accounting;

* develop enterprise directives and financial plans;

* develop and design products and manufacturing


* conduct manufacturing operations; and

* manage external demands.

Computer-integrated manufacturing harnesses information system technology to integrate these manufacturing and business objectives. When implemented properly, CIM can deliver increased productivity, cost-efficiency, and responsiveness throughout the enterprise. CIM accomplishes this by addressing each of the following major functional areas of the manufacturing enterprise:

* marketing,

* engineering and research,

* production planning,

* plant operations,

* physical distribution, and

* business management.

Integrating these functions and their resources requires the ability to share and exchange information about the many events that occur during the various phases of production. Manufacturing systems must be able to communicate with the other information systems within the enterprise. There must also be the means to capture data close to its source, then integrate this data at a division or corporate level as well as with external suppliers, subcontractors, and even customers.

To meet this need, the CIM environment requires a dynamic network of distribution functions. These functions may reside on independent system platforms and require data from various sources. Some may be general-purpose platforms, while others are tailored to specific environments. But the result is an environment that encompasses the total information requirements of the enterprise--from developing its business plans to shipping its products.

With this enterprise-wide emphasis, CIM can deliver its benefits to all types of manufacturing operations, from plants that operate one shift per day to processes that must flow continuously...from unit fabrication and assembly to yielded lots with by-products and co-products. These benefits can also be realized in those enterprises where flexible manufacturing systems are being used to produce more diversified products over shorter runs, as well as by integrating the management of the CIM enterprise with automated office systems.


Many managers would like to believe that CIM implementation will lead directly to competitive success for their companies. By itself, however, CIM allows you only to make an ineffective process more efficient; that is, it helps you do the wrong thing very well.

To achieve and maintain competitive success, an organization requires a management process that blends strategy formulation and implementation. This process--known as strategic integration--links business objectives (fending of competition, perhaps) with the appropriate operational response (CIM, for example). Strategic integration is not executed in a sequential manner like many of the traditional approaches to realizing business objectives. Rather, as the diagram on the following page shows, strategic integration is the simultaneous interaction of the various functional areas to achieve business objectives. Management's role in strategic integration is to:

* understand market success factors;

* identify specific roles for all functional areas to help

the organization achieve success;

* ensure compatibility, consistency, and coordination

among the functional areas; and

* manage the operation to achieve the desired results.

To achieve strategic integration, the organization must also use the computer as part of the broader management process aimed at the achievement of competitive success. This management process encompasses the multitude of daily business decisions that involve allocating resources, defining new products, identifying performance and quality specifications, and establishing and maintaining schedule timing and cost objectives. Computer technology is not the critical factor in this process; rather, computers represent task-level solutions for achieving management goals.

The manufacturing cost improvements that CIM can help bring about are not enough to ensure competitive success. A company's ability to be a low-cost producer, to offer improved product quality, and to reduce production turnaround time must be blended with an effective management process. When this occurs, CIM can be the basis for such competitive advantages as the ability to change product features rapidly or to customize products in response to unique needs.

In short, one cannot achieve success by merely throwing technology at a situation. One must integrate technology with effective management, which is a process that is impossible to automate. CIM alone does not equal competitive success, but the right management process in conjunction with CIM can. Therefore, manufacturers are now viewing CIM as more of a strategic issue than a technical issue. The strategic questions include the following:

* What information do we need to run the business?

* What are the strategic advantages to moving that

information in less time?

* What are the financial impacts of moving information


* What are the primary obstacles to rapid

implementation of CIM in manufacturing operations?

Perhaps careful analysis of these questions will help enable management to position their operations strategically in order to stay competitive in a dynamic market environment.

Dr. Mehra, CPIM, is professor of operations management at Memphis State University.
COPYRIGHT 1990 University of Memphis
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Mehra, Satish
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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