Our two cover stories this month look at ways to measure and control the overall performance of production equipment in a manufacturing plant. In each case, a computer network gathers and delivers information about events happening inside the machine tool.
About 20 years ago, this concept of a computerized, plant-wide monitoring system was described and given a name—computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM).
CIM was widely seen as the future direction for factory operations. For example, in 1987, Modern Machine Shop’s NC/CIM Guidebook envisaged CIM as the means to improving the overall productivity of a plant to the same dramatic extent that computer numerical control had improved the productivity of the individual machine tool. (It is interesting to note this annual publication was called the NC/CAM Guidebook in prior years—the name change reflected the interest in CIM that was peaking at the time.)
Yet the term went out of fashion in a few years, apparently because it was an idea ahead of its time. The technology to implement such a plant-wide system wasn’t ready yet. But something else was missing, too. Factories were not as worried about integration because the marketplace wasn’t integrated, either. We could live with islands of automation because the marketplace was insular, too.
That has all changed. The tectonic force of digital communication has driven the continents together into one virtual landmass. The globally integrated marketplace that emerged has changed our thinking about integrated manufacturing. Plants have to compete with plants around the world, and only the best will survive.
This reality makes the importance of ridding waste from both machining and non-machining time much clearer now. Lean manufacturing has taught us to think in terms of the entire value stream. Even the effectiveness of automation is now interpreted in terms of overall plant efficiency.
Fortunately, this new mindset is taking hold alongside the development of viable technology to integrate manufacturing. The computer-integrated manufacturing plant can take its destiny into its own hands. Top managers will not have to guess about global competitiveness or about where improvements are needed. Likewise, all employees in the plant will know how their efforts contribute to the cause.
We may not need CIM as an acronym anymore, but the concept of computer-integrated manufacturing has now come of age.