flexible manufacturing system
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flexible manufacturing system[′flek·sə·bəl ‚man·yə·′fak·chə·riŋ ‚sis·təm]
Flexible manufacturing system
A factory or part of a factory made up of programmable machines and devices that can communicate with one another. Materials such as parts, pallets, and tools are transported automatically within the flexible manufacturing system and sometimes to and from it. Some form of computer-based, unified control allows complete or partial automatic operation. Flexible manufacturing systems are part of a larger computer-based technology, termed computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), which encompasses more than the movement and processing of parts on the factory floor. See Automation, Computer-aided design and manufacturing, Computer-integrated manufacturing
The programmable machines and devices are numerically controlled machine tools, robots, measuring machines, and materials-handling equipment. Each programmable machine or device typically has its own controller which is, in effect, a dedicated digital computer; programs must be written for these controllers, usually in special-purpose languages designed to handle the geometry and machining. Increasingly, numerically controlled machines are being programmed by graphical presentations on computer screens, that is, graphical computer interfaces. This allows the programmer to follow the machining operation and specify desired operations without the need for statements in a programming language. Robots have usually been programmed by so-called teaching, where the robot is physically led through a sequence of movements and operations; the robot remembers them and carries them out when requested. See Computer graphics, Digital computer, Intelligent machine, Materials-handling equipment, Programming languages, Robotics
The programmable machines and devices communicate with one another via an electronic connection between their controllers. Increasingly, this connection is by means of local-area networks, that is, communication networks that facilitate highspeed, reliable communication throughout the entire factory.
The automatic material transport system is usually a guided, computer-controlled vehicle system. The vehicles are usually confined to a fixed network of paths, but typically any vehicle can be made to go from any point in the network to any other point. The network is different from a classical assembly line in that it is more complex and the flow through it is not in one direction.
Commands and orders to the flexible manufacturing system are sent to its computer-based, unified control. The control, in turn, issues orders for the transport of various kinds of material, the transfer of needed programs, the starting and stopping of programs, the scheduling of these activities, and other activities.
Flexible manufacturing systems are flexible in the sense that their device controllers and central control computer can be reprogrammed to make new parts or old parts in new ways. They can also often make a number of different types of parts at the same time. However, this flexibility is limited to a certain family of parts, for example, axles. A general goal for designers is to increase flexibility, and advanced flexible manufacturing systems are more flexible than the earlier ones.