The management of manufacturing trade-offs
This thesis investigates the nature and management of manufacturing trade-offs. It examines the properties and features of trade-offs in the context of manufacturing systems and the ways that operations management may deal with them. The need for such an investigation stems from (a) the increasing interest in trade-offs, (b) the implicit use of trade-offs in many recent popular operations literature, (c) the interest in the dynamic competencies literature and (d) the apparent lack of trade-offs methods or an overall framework. This study reflects the need to extend the trade-offs research from its present descriptive focus to an explanatory and hopefully more elucidating focus. This research is based on a number of case studies of manufacturing companies in Great Britain and Brazil. Data concerning their trade-offs were collected mainly through the examination of documents, observations of shop-floor activities and interviews with the systems' key operations managers. Following analysis identified the major data within and across the cases about the properties, features and management of trade-offs. This investigation suggests mainly that trade-offs between MSDs do exist; that their structure can be visualised as base, pivot and function; that they are contingent and dynamic; that their performance is different from their importance; that these depend on a range of external and internal factors; that one can improve trade-offs through alternative strategies and that flexibility may have a pivotal role in this process. The major original contributions of this explanatory, in-depth investigation are (a) the development of a trade-offs model that may be more accurate and useful than previous models in the literature; (b) the distinction between the performance and importance of trade-offs; (c) the taxonomy of trade-offs management strategies and (d) the identification of the role of flexibility in trade-offs management, with emphasis on the distinction between the ideas of flexibility and variety in that context.