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Computer integrated manufacturing in German industry: aspirations and achievements.

The strategic role of manufacturing

Manufacturing strategies that provide a large variety of different products with high quality and attractive prices have become crucial competitive factors. Customers expect short delivery times and state-of-the-art products; corporations have to manage a constant flow of innovations with reduced time-to-market and time-to-volume. All this requires the ability of the firms to adjust rapidly to changing market conditions. Many industrial corporations have responded to these challenges - and still do - by implementing computer based tools and sophisticated systems for production planning and control (Milling, 1993).

The basic concept of CIM focuses on the integration of the technical and business oriented branches of electronic data processing on the one hand and the production systems to improve the information and material flows between different operations on the other. Figure 1 shows the components of the CIM concept and their relationships (AWF, 1985).

Computer integrated manufacturing is achieved when the engineering-based computer-aided tools (CAD, CAP, CAM, CAQ) are bound up with the different stages of the managerial production planning and control (PPC) system to allow the effective use of all relevant information sources (Scheer, 1994). Reliable, high quality, fast, flexible, and cost efficient production processes are the expected results.

Representative empirical investigations as to whether these high objectives are actually achieved are rare at least. Experts in the field articulate their opinions about the potential of CIM (Kohl et al., 1988). Case studies describe how individual firms behaved or performed in specific situations - many of these descriptions are from providers of CIM-equipment - but the academic literature provides little evidence with convincing validity about the benefits or the shortcomings of CIM (Milling and Zapfel, 1993). Considering the costly, complicated and lengthy processes of CIM implementation, this is an unsatisfactory situation.

To gain a comprehensive and reliable picture of the situation in German corporations, a total of 550 German industrial firms were questioned and their responses were processed with different statistical tools including a multivariate cluster analysis (Buring). The main topics of the investigation are:

* The current status of CIM-implementations in German industry. The questionnaire asked for the types and the number of different CIM components in use, the degree of their integration, the achieved level of flexibility and automation of the production processes, and the applications of production planning and control.

* The reasons that caused the decision to invest in CIM. The firms provided information about their expectations associated with the investment in CIM technologies and what procedures they applied for implementation. It was especially investigated whether a step-by-step investment in CIM is feasible.

* The extent to which the original objectives were met. The degree of goal achievement was evaluated. Different strategies of how to invest in CIM and their consequences were analysed. Finally, recommendations were derived to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of implementing CIM.

In the following, first an overview of the characteristics of the sample together with the procedure of the investigation, especially the questionnaire and its implications, will be given, then the results of the investigation with respect to the topics above will be presented and discussed.

Characteristics of the firms in the sample

The distribution among the firms in the sample with respect to the standard industry classification to which they belong, their workforce, and their sales volume are shown in Figure 2. The population was restricted to firms from the hardware manufacturing industry with their sites in the "old" states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Otherwise the sample was picked randomly. The figure indicates the dominance of medium-sized corporations with a workforce of fewer than 2,000 employees and a sales volume of less than DM250 million which mainly operate in the areas of machine tools and electric goods.

An eight page questionnaire was sent to the selected firms, which took approximately 30-40 minutes to answer. The questionnaire included a brief description of computer integrated manufacturing and its idea of customer-focused production. It referred to experiences showing that the success of CIM cannot be taken for granted and that sometimes the objectives of the CIM investment were not achieved. It then explained the motivation for the investigation as the attempt to analyse the relationship between the technological and conceptual framework and the realization of the CIM-associated goals (Hayes and Wheelwright, 1988).

The questionnaire started with enquiries concerning the field and the size and the production portfolio of the corporation. Then it t
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Author:Milling, Peter M.
Publication:International Journal of Operations & Production Management
Date:Sep 1, 1997
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