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Effective CIM implementation using socio-technical principles.

One lesson learned from Japanese operation/production management in the 1990s is to use advanced manufacturing technology such as computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), just-in-time (JIT) systems, concurrent engineering (CE), and flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) to produce products with high quality, low costs and shorter lead times. At present, many American manufacturing companies are busy with implementing CIM to improve their competitiveness. However, many cases have shown that effective implementation depends on the thorough understanding of the relationship between technical complexity and the social system in which the technical complexity is embedded. This article will attempt to provide some principles, based on socio-technical systems design and analysis and past experiences, for conceptualized effective CIM implementation in organizational contexts. These principles rest upon the importance of communication and coordination in social processes within any organization.

Four dimensions

Socio-technical system theorists advocate the importance of joint-optimization in effective, organizational design. Joint-optimization, a word coined by Emery, has a very specific meaning here. It holds that the most effective arrangement within human organizations will be those that integrate the demands of both technical and social aspects of interactions. In this sense, socio-technical system design is aimed at the full utilization of both technical and human resources in workplace. In order to achieve this objective, the original focus was on the introduction of semi-autonomous work groups, which were capable of self-regulating in terms of technical and social requirements. These semi-autonomous work groups, precursors of today's self-directed work teams, were facilitated through a program of action research. Through this action research intervention, the quality of work life including job satisfaction, morale and productivity were significantly improved.

Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) technology involves modern information technologies, including both computer hardware and software, advanced numerical controlled machine tools and industrial robots. Compared to the original socio-technical situation, the man-machine interaction patterns have drastically changed. In addition, implementation of CIM technology involves organization-wide change, including technological, structural, strategic, and individual changes. Therefore, socio-technical analysis of implementing advanced manufacturing technology must apply the extended socio-technical system concept to what are essentially non-linear systems. This involves three levels:

* individual;

* group; and

* organizational.

In the CIM implementation, at least four dimensions should be taken into consideration for achieving joint-optimization:

* Quality of work life;

* Congruency;

* Concurrence, and

* Flexibility.

Quality of work life

It must be recognized that there are some potential dangers to lessen the quality of work life in the workplace with CIM technology if we follow the previously applied standards to judge the Quality of Work Life (QWL) without any questions. Implementation of advanced manufacturing technology accrues human costs. In fact, in order to fit the strict machine cycle time and precision standard, normal individual autonomy, team autonomy and autonomy over methods before the advanced manufacturing technology are possibly lost. When we implement CIM technology in the workplace, the QWL standard itself must be reconceptualized. The appropriate degree of autonomy, opportunity for participation and involvement, management of stress and tension and possibility of multi-skill development must be embedded in employee's day-to-day work activities.

Schlesinger identifies nine aspects of Quality of Work Life, which must be designed into work activities. They include:

* Achieving sustained commitment from management to an open, non-directive style of operations that includes sincerely inviting employees to speak up regarding problems or opportunities;

* Establishing a work environment that encourages continuous learning, training, and active interest regarding both the job and the product or service to which the job contributes;

* Making the job itself more challenging by structuring it so that an individual can self-manage and feel responsible for a significant, identifiable output if that kind of responsibility is desired;

* Affording opportunities for continued growth, that is, opportunities to advance in organizational or career terms;

* Training of supervisors to equip them to function effectively in a less directive, more collaborative style;

* Breaking down the traditional status barriers between management and production or support personnel-achieving atmosphere of open communication and trust between management and the workforce;

* Providing not only feedback with regard to results achieved and recognition for good results but also financial incentives, such as cost-savings sharing, where feasible;

* Seeking to select personal who can be motivated, under appropriate conditions, to give a damn about striving for excellence in task performance;

* Evaluating and analyzing results, including failures, leading to revised efforts toward continual improvement.

CIM technology is basically concerned with the integration of production activities such as material handling, inventory control, work-in-process management and production scheduling through computer systems. However, the CIM technology also implies the overall integration of managerial functions: marketing, design, engineering, accounting, personnel, and finance. The higher degree of cross-functional integration demands strong infrastructural support to the efficient operation of the manufacturing systems. When implementing the technology, management must be sure that the whole organization, including its structure, strategy, people, and power and authority distribution is congruent with the new manufacturing technology. Previous studies have shown that possible problems often occur between design/engineering and manufacturing departments. In addition, accounting system, financial analysis, marketing function and personnel must also adapt to the new manufacturing technology.


The implementation of advanced manufacturing technology is aimed to fit the changing environments, specifically, the sheer variety of customer demands and shorter lead time. The organization with CIM technology, from the technical point, gains the capability of concurrent engineering, that is, design and manufacturing of desired products can take place simultaneously. However, the connecting mechanisms with customers such as understanding of customer demands, forecasting of market segment change and quality improvement of products have to be built in the production process by management. In order to regain the competitive advantage through implementing the CIM technology, concurrent engineering technique and philosophy must also be used simultaneously.

Factory automation has been traditionally understood as a tool for efficiency under the mass production situation. Different from the traditional production technology, CIM technology implies a high potential of flexibility through computer-based manufacturing systems. A trade-off between flexibility and efficiency exists. The purpose of implementation design is then to choose the appropriate combination between flexibility and efficiency.

Effective implementation

In order to achieve the above four dimensions of joint-optimization, the following principles must be taken into consideration for managerial actions:

Principle 1 -- Organizational structure must be compatible with the CIM technology.

Organizational structure can be viewed as the arrangement of people with different tasks and responsibilities. In traditional organization theory, people are differentiated in terms of functions or locations. Interdepartmental integration is achieved by authority, centralization, and regulation. Decisions are made at the top, and the lower or bottom-line employees are responsible for implementing these decisions (in which they have not participated in making).

CIM technology is not going to work well in such hierarchical organizations. It requires redefinition of traditional functions, cross-departmental cooperation, and high involvement of employees in product development processes. In other words, CIM implementation requires organizational restructuring.

The structural adjustment is aimed at a high degree of cross-functional integration. For dealing with cross-functional integration, Dean and Susman propose a concept of "product center," which is a design team consisting of representatives from engineering, manufacturing, quality assurance, and product support departments such as documentation. Each product center has a manager, deputy manager, and whenever possible, people working on the project are located in the same room. A manufacturing company can also establish a product-process design department, similar to the product center, which would be responsible for both product development and production processes.

Principle 2 -- Implementing CIM requires an appropriate degree of flexibility.

Tidd suggests eight aspects of assessing manufacturing flexibility:

* Machine flexibility;

* Process flexibility;

* Product flexibility;

* Routing flexibility;

* Volume flexibility;

* Expansion flexibility;

* Operation flexibility; and

* Production flexibility.

In a situation of global competition, flexibility links directly to competitive advantage because it determines the capability of product innovation and response time. If manufacturing technology is not flexible enough, companies have no way to produce higher variety, shorter lead time and lower cost products. Inflexibility means loss of competitive advantage.

The overall flexibility is measured by the combination of production volume and production variety. If the concern is more on the volume side (the example is the mass production case), the efficiency is increased but flexibility is decreased; however, if the concern is more on the variety side (the example is craftsman), the efficiency is decreased but flexibility is increased. Therefore, there needs to be a balance between efficiency and flexibility. The overall flexibility is determined by appropriate combination of production hardware and software. Hardware includes materials handling equipments, machine tools, and other related supporting machinery. Software includes integration programs, production planning and scheduling, inventory control, and customer connections. Effective CIM implementation is dependent upon the appropriate combination of hardware and software to achieve flexibility.

Principle 3 -- The CIM implementation is an organizational transformation process.

From the socio-technical point of view, the CIM technology is closely related with every aspect of organizational process: marketing, engineering, accounting, manufacturing, and personnel. Therefore, implementing CIM in organizations is not similar to replacing your old car by a new one; it is an organizational transformation process in which people's values, organizational culture, competition strategy, as well as its arrangement of people all will change. It is a dramatic change in the way of doing business. CIM organization must be prepared to apply CIM implementation as a triggering event to transform, in a system-wide fashion, your current organization. Cross-functional cooperation and integration must be introduced, customer connection must be reinforced, tight integration of design, engineering, and plant control must be emphasized, and collaborative and cooperative climate must be established and nurtured. Without these changes, CIM technology will not meet the expectations.

Principle 4: The organizational transformation requires transformation of management philosophy and methodology.

The central theme of organizational transformation is the transformation of management philosophy and methodology. As Hayes and Jaikumar indicated, "the real impediment lies not in the inherent demands of the hardware but in the managerial infrastructure that has become embedded in most US companies over the past 50 years. This includes the attitudes, policies, systems, and habits of mind that are so ingrained and pervasive within companies that they are almost invisible to those within them."

The first change in management is the philosophy of doing business. The new philosophy must be customer-oriented, that is, the objective of doing business is to understand the customers' desires and meet their demands. Customers' desires are diverse, constantly changing, and sometimes invisible. They are not always articulate in "one language". Managers must gain the capability to understand and anticipate customers' desires and meet their desires through a variety of products with high quality, low costs, and shorter lead time. This means communication with customers, not just to them.

The second change in management is the way of managing. Under the rational management paradigm, our management methods are limited to the linear causal thinking: if the sales declined last month, the first thing is to blame someone, such as the marketing department. The management of advanced manufacturing technology in organization requires systems thinking, called "fifth discipline," for building the learning organizations. Managers must be capable of grasping the invisible, subtle, and complex internal interactions among many different elements in organizations, which make them into a coherent system.

The third change in management is the requirement of the second-order management, or the management of management, or self-management of managers. Self-management of managers implies reflexivity, that is, when you make a judgement, you should be capable of realizing that you are making the judgement under a certain set of values, beliefs, and criteria. The judgement you made has nothing to do with the "objective" reality or truth. If you are not capable of looking inward to surface your espoused value or beliefs, the judgement will not change.

Principle 5 -- The organization with CIM must be a team organization.

CIM technology requires higher degree of integration and interactions cross the traditional functional departments. In order to make it more effective, the organization must take teams as its fundamental units. Problems are solved through collaborative efforts, and mutual understandings are achieved through face-to-face interactions across departments. The team organization facilitates open communication, increase mutual understanding, and a high commitment of individual to the organization. Therefore, the team organization can become self-productive, self-organizing, and self-regulating.

Principle 6 -- CIM organizations need integration with customers and suppliers.

In general, each production process can be divided into three stages: the assembly stage, subassembly stage, and component stage. In order to achieve efficiency, organizations with CIM must also achieve to some extent vertical integration, in addition to their internal congruency and integration. One aspect of vertical integration is customer connection. Customers' desires determine how quality is assessed. Customer's desires and tastes must be understood by inter-related departments of manufacturing organization. Full understanding will facilitate reduction of delivery time and improvement of quality.

The other aspect of vertical integration is connection with suppliers. In manufacturing processes, subassembly and components are normally provided by other producers. The integration with them is important because of not only reduction of lead time, but also cost and efficiency.

Principle 7 -- CIM implementation is a continuous Process.

If we say the above six principles are CIM implementation principles, this one is the principle of principles, or a principle about the other principles. CIM implementation has no ending point; it is an interactive process in which the implementation objective is continuously modified, problems and solutions are continuously redefined, and outcomes are continuously evaluated.

The continuous improvement philosophy requires recognizing the role of the designer, who is responsible for preparing implementation activities. The holistic approach of implementation must be designer-centered, that is, it is the designer who makes the implementation in terms of the personal understanding of the situation, construction of implementation objective, and selection of implementation methods. An effective designer must be reflective and capable of self-awareness in the implementation process.

For further reading

Dean, J.W., Jr. and Susman, G.I., "Organizing for Manufacturing Design," Harvard Business Review, January-February, 1989.

Emery, F.E., Characteristics of Socio-technical Systems, Tavistock Institute of Human Relations Document, No. 527, 1959.

Hayes, R.H. and Jaikumar, R., "Manufacturing's Crisis: New Technologies, Obsolete Organizations," Harvard Business Review, September-October, 1988.

Klein, J.A., "The Human Cost of Manufacturing Reform," Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1989.

Kumpe, T. and Bolwijn, P.T., Manufacturing: the new case of vertical integration. Harvard Business Review. March-April, 1988.

Parthasarthy, R. and Sethi, S.P., The impact of flexible automation on business strategy and organizational structure. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 17, No. 1.

Pasmore, W.A., Designing Effective Organizations: The Socio-technical Systems Perspective, New York: Wiley, 1988.

Pava, C., "Redesigning socio-technical systems design: concepts and methods for the 1990s," The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Vol. 22, No. 3.

Schlesinger, L.A., Quality of Work Life and the Supervisor. New York: Praeger, 1982.

Senge, P.M., The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday Currency, 1990.

Tidd, J., Flexible Manufacturing Technologies and International Competitiveness. London: Pinter, 1991.

Baizhong Zhao is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of engineering management at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va. He has an M.B.A. from Appalachian State University and an M.S. in thermal engineering. Frederick Steier is associate professor of engineering management end executive director of the Center for Cybernetic Studies in Complex Systems at Old Dominion University. He received his Ph.D. is Social Systems Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:computer integrated manufacturing
Author:Baizhong Zhao; Steier, Frederick
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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