An investigation of computer integrated batch manufacturing processes in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Global competition and improved manufacturing technologies have resulted in shorter product life cycles and smaller batch production with increasing product variations. Traditional batch manufacturing can never cater efficiently and effectively to the needs of ever changing markets. These changes and problems force small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to look for adaptations and improvements in their manufacturing processes. Larger companies have resources to adapt to these changes, however SMEs face major obstacles such as a lack of finance, technology know-how and expertise. These difficulties are heightened by the fact that current technologies and research are tailored towards larger companies and pay little attention to the demands of SMEs. This research presents an integrated methodology intended specifically to assist SMEs in the design and selection of the most viable batch manufacturing system. The motivation for the research was twofold, firstly there was a need to transfer the advanced batch manufacturing technologies to SMEs through the applications of analytical hierarchy technique (AHP) and computer simulation which are generally used in larger companies, and utilise them effectively in their manufacturing processes. Secondly, the lack of a comprehensive and integrated methodology to deal with the major concerns faced by SMEs in adopting these technologies needed to be addressed. Unlike previous investigations, this study uses an approach which considers all facets of an SME including organisational, tactical, operational and financial issues. It attempts to address the complex problems of manufacturing system design by integrating a decision framework with the group technology concept and powerful computer tools. This is accomplished by the use of multi-criteria decision making, Group Technology, computer simulation and costs modelling tools and techniques. To validate the suitability of the methodology, an industrial case study with an SME engaged in discrete batch manufacturing was used. The results indicate that the research methodology is effective and useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a generic system and can be tailored to fit the uniqueness of any SME. Also, it will assist in helping SMEs to understand the advanced technologies, ease the decision making process, facilitate the effective integration of information and the decision making process, reduce investment risks, and eventually achieve the introduction of a much needed "low cost system" to improve the competitiveness of manufacturing companies.
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