for Build-to-Order & Mass Customization
Flexible Manufacturing supports Mass Customization
by enabling the on-demand manufacture of a variety of parts and products.
For fabricated products, all operations can be performed flexibly without setup
delays or extra costs. Here are some examples of flexible part manufacture:
Flexible CNC. All CNC machine tools (even
the ones you are using in a batch mode)
are capable of fabricating families of parts. Source of image right: Haas
Automation of Oxnard, CA:
Three elements enable this flexibility:
1) Standard raw materials that are supplied spontaneously (see
below) so that they are always available to avoid procurement delays.
2) CNC programs can be instantly retrieved or generated “on the fly.”
3) Setup or workholding delays are eliminated with cellular manufacturing cells
For Electronics Products.
These principles also apply to electronics products, since Printed Circuit
Boards are also built by CNC machine tools that can place a variety of comments
onto versatile “bare boards” (point #1 above) using quickly
loaded programs (point #2) onto standard panels or standard material
handling rail widths (point #3).
Source Cells can cut parts or material
“blanks” to-order for fabrication cells or assembly lines.
The illustration shows a source cell for sheet metal. If raw material can be
standardized on one gauge, then the standard gauge can be fed from a coil, for
substantial raw material savings. This also results in better nesting of part shapes
and avoids the very wasteful practice of trying to cut part shapes out of 4' x
8' sheets and trying to get any more use out of the remnants left
Source cells can
programmable cut on-demand all the shapes of that gauge for the entire factory,
and could even become a supplier for other factories who would appreciate
fast delivery of low-volume/high-mix blanks at low-cost with no inventory at their
shop or their suppliers'. This would help justify the
investment for the roll feeder.
Flexible Fixtures. For each machine tool,
flexible fixtures can be concurrently engineered to instantly accept any part or raw
material “blank” in the part family in any volume, down to one piece; The
illustration shows the flexible fixture principle for milled parts.
Similar flexible fixtures can be structured for cylindrical parts for lathes
The illustration at the right shows four
flexible fixtures on one milling machine bed in which each fixtures allows
instant positioning and quick clamp down of any part in the families, shown by
different sizes in different colors. All parts in all families can be positioned quickly against the horizontal "X" datum bar and the vertical "y"
datum bar and the machine tool bed, which is e "Z" datum (out of image).
Note that the center of the milling machine bed can still be used for general
machining or for other fixtures.
Spontaneous Supply Chains
Standard parts and materials, mentioned above, can be procured
spontaneously without forecasts, inventory, or waiting for ordered parts to
arrive, as described at:
delivered “dock to line” so they are always available at all points of use,
instead of the common mass-production practice of sending all parts and
materials to the Receiving Department where they are “kitted” into a batch for
scheduled batch production runs.
The article at:
automatic resupply techniques such as kanban, steady flows, min/max, and
breadtruck (free stock). Two-bin kanbans can range from pairs of cardboard bins
to pairs of truck trainers, where one bin or truck trailer is in use and the
other is going back to “the source,” which could be a supplier or a
The author of this article, Dr.
David M. Anderson, can be reached at 805-924-0100 or
He has published dozens of articles that are posted at
Copyright © 2018 by Dr. David M. Anderson,