Machine Sharing in Manufacturing Systems: Total Flexibility versus Chaining

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In this paper, we compare the operational performance of two machine-sharing configurations: total flexibility and chaining. We show that chaining captures most of the benefits of total flexibility while limiting the number of part types processed on any individual machine to only two. We examine the relative desirability of the two configurations under varying buffer sizes, loading conditions, number of machines, and setup times, as well as for different control policies. For nonzero setups times, we show that chained configurations can outperform fully flexible ones. This particularly is the case when either the number of machines or length of setup times is high. We also find that the effect of the system size on performance diminishes with the number of machines. This means that multiple smaller chains can perform almost as well as a single long one. Our results are consistent with the recent findings of Jordan and Graves (1995), who examined the economic benefits of chaining relative to full flexibility.

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