Flexibility as Process Mobility: The Management of Plant Capabilities for Quick Response Manufacturing

Upton, David (1995) Flexibility as Process Mobility: The Management of Plant Capabilities for Quick Response Manufacturing. Journal of Operations Management, 12 (3-4). pp. 205-224.


This paper examines the relationship between one form of manufacturing flexibility - operational mobility (or the ability to change quickly between products) - and structure, infrastructure and managerial policy at the plant level. Using data from a broader study aimed at exploring the general sources of manufacturing flexibility, the paper provides evidence of the strength of the links between manufacturing flexibility and such factors as scale, technology vintage, computer integration and workforce management. There has been little empirical work on this subject, partly as a result of the difficulties of defining and measuring flexibility. The type of flexibility explored in this paper is specifically the capability of a plant to change between process states quickly. I find that most of the variance in flexibility across plants can be explained by a combination of structural factors, such as the scale of the plant; infrastructural factors, such as the length of service of the operators; and measures of managerial emphasis, such as the perceived importance of making quick changeovers. Of these factors, I find that the scale of a plant does not strongly inhibit its flexibility and that computer integration is either insignificant or detrimental to the flexibility of a plant. Workforce characteristics are also important determinants of flexibility, and the results suggest that less experienced operators may be more flexible in their ability to make certain types of change quickly between products. A strong determinant of the flexibility of a plant is the extent to which operators perceive managers to have emphasized the importance of various performance dimensions. Finally, I show that different forms of flexibility are not necessarily related to each other. This emphasizes the importance of identifying precisely the particular type of flexibility that is to be developed when building manufacturing capabilities.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Manufacturing flexibility; Competitive capabilities; Plant management; Plant network management
Subject(s): Operations management
Centre: Faculty of Operations Management
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2012 19:57
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2015 14:06
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/2110

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