What Is a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS)?

What Is a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS)?

A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) is a production method that is designed to easily adapt to changes in the type and quantity of the product being manufactured. Machines and computerized systems can be configured to manufacture a variety of parts and handle changing levels of production.

Key Takeaways

  • A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) is designed up front to be readily adapted to changes in the type and quantity of goods being produced.
  • Production in an FMS is largely automated, reducing overall labor costs.
  • An FMS system is, however, more expensive to design and put in place than a fixed system, and it requires skilled technicians.

Understanding Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS)

A flexible manufacturing system (FMS) can improve efficiency and reduce production costs, crucial concerns in the process of business development. Flexible manufacturing also can be a key component of a make-to-order strategy that allows customized products and keeps inventories low. Such flexibility can come with higher up-front costs. Purchasing and installing the specialized equipment that allows for such customization may be costly compared with more traditional systems.

The concept of flexible manufacturing was developed by Jerome H. Lemelson (1923-1997), an American industrial engineer and inventor who filed a number of related patents in the early 1950s. His original design was a robot-based system that could weld, rivet, convey, and inspect manufactured goods. Lemelson did not build his system; indeed, when he posited it, the ability to build it was still out of reach. Eventually, however, it became possible to build one, and the FMS debuted on factory floors in the U.S. and Europe in the late 1960s and started to proliferate in the 1970s.

An FMS may include a configuration of interconnected workstations with computer terminals that process the end-to-end creation of a product. Functions may include loading and unloading, machining and assembly, storing, quality testing, and data processing. The system can be programmed to run a batch of one set of products in a particular quantity and then automatically switch over to another set of products in another quantity.

Flexible manufacturing can be a key component of a make-to-order strategy that allows buyers to order customized products.

Pros and Cons of an FMS

The main benefit is the enhancement of production efficiency. Downtime is reduced because the production line does not have to be shut down to set up for a different product.

The disadvantages of an FMS include its higher up-front costs and the greater time required to design the system specifications for a variety of future needs. Specialized technicians needed to run, monitor, and maintain the FMS also add expense. However, advocates of FMS maintain that the increase in automation typically results in a net reduction in labor costs.

How Is a Flexible Management System (FMS) Set Up?

An FMS may be set up in a number of ways. After all, its main lure is its adaptability. One configuration might involve interconnected computer workstations that process the end-to-end creation of a product. This starts with loading/unloading functions and proceeds to machining and assembly, storing, quality testing, and data processing. The FMS programming can automatically switch from one set of products in a certain amount to another set in a different amount.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of FMS?

The main benefit of an FMS is that it makes production more efficient. Delays are reduced, as production doesn’t have to be shut down to set up for a different product. Drawbacks include higher up-front costs and the greater time required to design the system specifications for a variety of future needs. There is also an additional cost for the specialized technicians who work the FMS. Nevertheless, the system’s automation generally leads to an overall reduction in labor costs.

Who Invented the FMS?

Jerome H. Lemelson (1923-97), an American industrial engineer and inventor, is credited with developing the concept of flexible manufacturing. His initial design featured a robot-based system that could weld, rivet, convey, and inspect manufactured goods. Systems based on his design began showing up on factory floors in the U.S. and Europe in the late 1960s, becoming even more popular in the 1970s.

Article Sources
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