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AUTOMATION An FMS is typically costly, but it enables quick changes in production and can run untended


How to begin thinking about a flexible system


Kristen Golembiewski Contributing Editor


A


s manufacturers figure out how to meet ever- changing demands with an ever-shrinking workforce, automation is being hailed as an answer. And flexible


manufacturing systems (FMS) can serve as a backbone for automation. An FMS enables quick changes in production and can run untended, helping shops maximize their output and time. And although a company looking to invest in a large FMS setup can easily expect to spend more than $1 million, the benefits are undeniable. An FMS may include CNC machines,


robots, material handling systems or pal- letizing systems and is controlled by ERP software. Smaller setups start under $500K, with a smaller, two-machine system from Fastems averaging $380K and reaching $1M


or more depending on machine size and the size of the system as a whole. “Your FMS could be very highly pro-


ductive. In fact, it could be so productive that it can overwhelm the manufacturing operation,” said Walter Towner, assistant teaching professor at Worcester Polytech- nic Institute’s Foisie School of Business and director of the WPI Center for Innovative Manufacturing Solutions. He advises shops considering such a


costly solution to consider their local and global efficiencies. On the local level, work to understand how the FMS will impact back-end operations like finishing and as- sembly, as well as other jobs. On the global level, consider the impact on competitive- ness: For example, can the system produce parts while maintaining profitability and the quality customers expect?


49


Fujitsu Glovia’s James Gorham, Fastems’ Robert Humphreys, Worcester Polytech- nic Institute’s Walter Towner and Makino’s David Ward.


Summer 2016


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