Definition and Classification of Manufacturing Flexibility Types and Measures

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Flexibility is one of the most sought-after properties in modern manufacturing systems. Despite this interest, flexibility remains poorly understood in theory and poorly utilized in practice. One reason for this is the lack of general agreement on how to define flexibility: over 70 terms (types and measures) can be found in the literature. This paper concerns developing a framework and classification scheme for use in defining and classifying the various terms regarding flexibility found in manufacturing. The framework consists of six attributes: level of manufacturing requirements specification, manufacturing system specification, manufacturing environment specification, flexibility dimension, flexibility measurement approach, and time frame. A six-field hybrid classification scheme is developed based on this framework. The framework serves as a guide for developing new flexibility terms, whereas the classification scheme provides a mechanism for summarizing the important aspects of and assumptions behind a given term. The approach is demonstrated by using the classification scheme to classify over 50 existing flexibility terms. The results indicate that the classification scheme is an effective tool to aid in understanding different flexibility terms and how they compare to one another. At the same time, the difficulty of the classification exercise indicates the need for a suitable framework when defining such terms.

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