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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Omega, Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2000, Pages 195–213
Manufacturing organizations are experiencing a wide range of forces which make it necessary for them to continuously adapt their operations and consider the consequences of their production activities on customer expectations, supplier constraints and changes in the law. This paper presents an empirical verification of knowledge levels and the perceived strategic relevance of manufacturing flexibility. A questionnaire survey was conducted with a sample of 89 manufacturing firms located in the area around Brescia, one of the most industrialized areas in Europe. Initial results gave a better understanding of which type of flexibility is preferred when facing different environmental challenges. In addition, insights into managerial approaches were brought out through clustering and discriminant analysis which have made it possible to emphasize some significant differences between firms in the search patterns of manufacturing flexibility.
In general terms, manufacturing flexibility has been defined as the ability of a manufacturing organization to deploy and redeploy its resources effectively in response to changing environmental and internal conditions . Manufacturing flexibility has been emphasized as a major competitive concern in operations management  and its improvement is frequently an important issue on the manufacturing manager's agenda . The manufacturing flexibility choices made by firms are aimed at improving competitiveness when faced with rapid changes  and . With globalization the company must consider international markets and still maintain a certain threshold of flexibility to adjust quickly and cost-effectively to local markets requirements, evolving technical standards and changes in the law . Manufacturing flexibility can also be directed towards speeding up the introduction of products, which is critical in situations of increased uncertainty where products have short market lives. But even when product innovation capability is not critical (in established industries where fewer product changes occur), manufacturers often have to face considerable environmental uncertainty (due, for instance, to safety and environmental legislation or compliance to quality certification requirements). Despite the vast amount of research carried out on manufacturing flexibility over the last decade, common definitions and shared concepts still remain elusive. Many different classifications of the concept are proposed (e.g., ,  and ), and it is clear that approaches to operational flexibility have not yet reached a paradigmatic stage. Furthermore, some empirical evidence seems to confirm that, despite the wide proliferation of flexibility types and definitions proposed in the literature, flexibility tends to be unidimensional when operationalized . Even when adopting a specific taxonomy, the basic types of flexibility are not unrelated : new product introduction and mix flexibility interact in a fairly strict manner, tend to reinforce each other and influence common elements in operational domains such as the possibility of reusing components and the involvement of personnel. It also appears to be the case that mix flexibility can reduce the need for volume flexibility by decreasing volume swings . The research illustrated below addresses the issue of whether it is possible to track meaningful uniformity in the search patterns of manufacturing flexibility adopted by small and medium-sized enterprises. The underlying assumption is that the organizational adaptive behavior, when faced with external contingencies, is largely firm-specific (depending on the firm's physical and managerial structure and organizational resources and capabilities) and path-dependent (depending on its previous choices and past history) . After more than a decade of research into manufacturing flexibility, it is now recognized that flexibility and the measures used to express it are user- and/or situation-specific . This paper is divided into three parts. The first tries to identify the nature of environmental changes that firms are currently facing. The second part provides a measurement of the perceived effectiveness of each dimension of manufacturing flexibility when facing major environmental challenges. The third section illustrates an attempt to build a taxonomy of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based on their approach to manufacturing flexibility. The data refer to a sample of 89 SMEs located in the province of Brescia, one of the most industrialized area of northern Italy. The basic research model relies on the assumption that, by identifying specific environmental sources of uncertainty and the responses of the firms, one can a priori identify critical dimensions of manufacturing flexibility. Previous work in this area, in assuming that managers face the task of balancing manufacturing flexibility and external uncertainty, have generally aimed at building operational frameworks for the analysis of manufacturing flexibility, where managers are allowed to delineate each of the types of flexibility with which they may be concerned. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches have been followed when dealing with the measures of manufacturing flexibility types . Quantitative physical measures are based on actual production data (related to product, machines, processes, etc.). The relevant literature is extensive. Excellent reviews are presented ,  and . Two types of qualitative research can be identified based on whether perceptual scales are used or not. In the former case, major international surveys aimed at measuring flexibility investment and performance are presented, for instance, in Refs.  and . On the other hand, qualitative studies without perceptual scales have usually been placed in a framework in such a way that first the dimensions of change and the time horizon are identified, and then the critical elements of flexibility are derived . Dynamic equilibrium models have been used to visualize changes in external positioning, assessing the balance between flexibility and external uncertainty, and establishing long-term and short-term action plans. These models have been used together with audit checklists of external uncertainty and manufacturing flexibility ,  and . The practical benefits of these studies include the provision of a less ambiguous frame of reference for discussing the various flexibilities the firm needs to manage.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Manufacturing firms world-wide are investing in flexibility to efficiently and effectively adapt to external forces. Manufacturing flexibility allows firms to quickly put into use novel technologies, counter new consumer demands and deal with legislative and social climates that may differ in particular industrial and geographical areas. The perception of the increasing importance of manufacturing flexibility and its actual use has focused attention on the need for measures which indicate to what extent the related concepts are acknowledged in an organizational context. The roots of manufacturing flexibility performance in an organization is based on its capacity to respond to environmental changes. The environment in which an organization must operate is fraught with uncertainty and turbulence. The sources of uncertainty and turbulence are related to changes in customers' requirements and tastes, increased competition, technological change and socio-economic issues. Some of the turbulence is also due to internal factors as firm-specific resources, organizational capabilities change and evolve over time. In this paper the capacity of an organization to consistently achieve high performance levels has been linked to its ability to anticipate or respond to such changes which will centre, in the manufacturing domain, on the firm's ability to modify its use of tangible a well as intangible resources. This paper illustrates an attempt to address the issue of building a taxonomy of firm behaviors in terms of manufacturing flexibility choices. For this reason a questionnaire survey was conducted on 89 small and medium-sized firms which had a threefold aim: investigating the prevailing nature of environmental changes which require suitable responses, perceptually measuring the relative appropriateness of some opportunely operationalized manufacturing flexibility concepts and, finally, building a taxonomy of firms which could provide some indirect insights into the firm-specific search patterns for manufacturing flexibility. From the analysis two factors emerge as the most discriminating among the organizational approaches to manufacturing flexibility. These are, the importance given to machine as well as to routing flexibility and, to a lesser extent, the perceived relevance of expansion and product flexibility. Discriminant analysis has helped to refine these conclusions, bringing to some further factors. The two most discriminating functions are represented by the efficiency of plant operations and the organizational and managerial development of a firm. It follows that the analysis emphasizes peculiar relationships; on the one hand, between manufacturing flexibility and machining productivity and, on the other hand, between flexibility and innovation (both technological and organizational). This leads to the conclusion that exogenous determinants of flexibility, adoption of innovative technologies, organizational development and managerial practices interact in a fairly complex fashion and adapt themselves to a changing competitive environment.