Business implications of manufacturing innovation : the experience of increasing automation in smaller to medium sized companies.
Despite the considerable potential of advanced manufacturing technologies (AMT) for improving the economic performance of many firms, a growing body of literature highlights many instances where realising this potential has proven to be a more difficult task than initially envisaged. Focussing upon the implementation of new manufacturing technologies in several smaller to medium sized enterprises (SME), the research examines the proposition that many of these problems can be attributed in part to inadequate consideration of the integrated nature of such technologies, where the effects of their implementation are not localised, but are felt throughout a business. The criteria for the economic evaluation of such technologies are seen as needing to reflect this, and the research develops an innovative methodology employing micro-computer based spreadsheets, to demonstrate how a series of financial models can be used to quantify the effects of new investments upon overall company performance. Case studies include: the development of a prototype machine based absorption costing system to assist in the evaluation of CNC machine tool purchases in a press making company; the economics and strategy of introducing a flexible manufacturing system for the production of ballscrews; and analysing the progressive introduction of computer based printing presses in a packaging and general print company. Complementary insights are also provided from discussion with the management of several other companies which have experienced technological change. The research was conducted as a collaborative CASE project in the Interdisciplinary Higher Degrees Scheme and was jointly funded by the SERC and Gaydon Technology Limited and later assisted by PE-Inbucon. The findings of the research shows that the introduction of new manufacturing technologies usually requires a fundamental rethink of the existing practices of a business. In particular, its implementation is seen as ideally needing to take place as part of a longer term business and manufacturing strategy, but that short term commercial pressures and limited resources often mean that firms experience difficulty in realising this. The use of a spreadsheet based methodology is shown to be of considerable assistance in evaluating new investments, and is seen as being the limit of sophistication that a smaller business is willing to employ. Several points for effective modelling practice are also given, together with an outline of the context in which a modelling approach is most applicable.