, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 135-146

Trends and perspectives in flexible and reconfigurable manufacturing systems

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To better understand future needs in manufacturing and their enabling technologies, a survey of experts in manufacturing has been conducted. The survey instrument (i.e., questionnaire) tries to assess the experience to date with the use of flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) and to examine the potential roles and enabling technologies for reconfigurable manufacturing systems (RMS). The results show that two-thirds of respondents stated that FMSs are not living up to their full potential, and well over half reported purchasing FMS with excess capacity (which was eventually used) and excess features (which in many cases were not eventually used). They identified a variety of problems associated with FMS, including training, reconfigurability, reliability and maintenance, software and communications, and initial cost. However, despite these issues, nearly 75% of respondent expressed their desire to purchase additional, or expand existing FMSs. The experts agreed that RMS (which can provide exactly the capacity and functionality needed, exactly when needed) is a desirable next step in the evolution of production systems. The key enabling technologies for RMS were identified as modular machines, open-architecture controls, high-speed machining, and methods, training and education for the operation of manufacturing systems.