The societal and economic implications of a progressive decline in American industrial competitiveness are shocking. It is imperative that American manufacturers reverse this trend and take the lead in identifying and developing a foundational infrastructure for improving the quality of life through expansion of the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy. One approach at the forefront of existing research and development activities is agile manufacturing or open systems manufacturing which promises to facilitate and provide the guidance necessary for revitalization of American manufacturing competitiveness. However, tangible tools to aid manufacturers in the transition to agile manufacturing have yet to be fully developed, validated, and refined.
The purpose of this paper is to expose readers to the conceptual characteristics of agile manufacturing, as defined by industry and academic leaders at the Agile Manufacturing Enterprise Forum (AMEF). Agile enterprises are fully integrated organizations that focus technology, management, and the workforce into a well-coordinated, interdependent system. Agile organizations posses the ability to thrive in a globally competitive environment of continuous and unanticipated change by responding quickly to consumer or customer driven market changes.
Agile enterprises are capable of: rapid, cost-effective product development; developing cost-effective production facilities; continuous improvement of production processes; efficient changes in production volume; fully electronic just-in-time information systems for product specifications, ordering, quality, etc.; wide area networking of interactive communications with suppliers/vendors and customers; production facilities that are scalable, modular, and capable of rapid reconfiguration; and, functionally competent cross-trained teams for making point-of-use decisions.
Today's world-wide competitive environment requires manufacturing-oriented organizations to be proficient at agilely transforming production technologies, management strategies, and people to folly leverage business opportunities. Successful enterprises in the future will have to identify, analyze, evaluate and deploy appropriate technologies as dictated by the marketplace.