Computer Integrated Manufacturing
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(2), 5. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Until the robotics industry undergoes significant technological advance, industry must look elsewhere, to revive sagging productivity. New uses for current computer systems may be the answer. "The secret to competitive manufacturing, the new scenario goes, lies less in heavy automation and more in using computers to gather information from the factory floor and swap it with information from every other aspect of a business-from the sales department to product engineering to the shipping docks."

This at least, is how some companies are streamlining their business processes so as to decrease the time required from the production to the delivery of products. And it seems to be working. It's called computer-integrated manufacturing, or CIM, and needs only the right equipment and software to be put in place.

CIM integrates functions that traditionally have been separate, seeking "to stream line with quality control and just in-time manufacturing, and to give every machine and employee the ability to talk with each other and 'watch' a product as it moves through the entire corporate pipeline." Motorola, for example, has been using a computer-integrated process since 1988. A Motorola sales representative takes an order, say for 150 black Bravo pagers to be delivered on May 17, types the order into a laptop computer, specifies the unique code that causes each pager to beep and requests delivery in two weeks. "The order zips over phone lines to a mainframe computer in a new factory in Boynton Beach, Fla. The computer automatically schedules the 150 pagers for production May 15, orders the proper components, and, on the day after assembly, informs the shipping docks to express-mail them to Pacific Telesys Group (the company that ordered the pagers) in California."

By connecting each aspect of the manufacturing process via computer links, costly time delays and lack of communication between sales representatives and production engineers (often a problem when sales persons are not aware of their company's production potential and product capabilities) can be brought to a minimum. This is possible because the machines and computers found in the factory use the same language as the computers used in sales and shipping. The result for Motorola is that the Boynton Beach facility can produce the Bravo pocket pager at the same cost as the Singapore plant, which has cheaper labor and is not integrated, and "deliver, over-night, custom-built pagers that used to take nearly six weeks to supply." An additional benefit is that Motorola was able to use "mostly the same machines that populate the company's older factory floors," and so did not incur great expense in developing and/or purchasing new equipment.

If CIM is as successful as it is hoped it will be (its use by other companies such as Apple Computer Inc., and Federal-Mogul Corp. suggest that it will indeed be successful), two birds may be killed with one stone: While some industries are being revived, computers are finding new applications, further contributing to their proliferation. [Yoder, S. K. (1990, June 4). Putting it all together. The Wall Street Journal, pp. R 24, R25.]


The application of CIM and "just-in-time" management in industry has implications for curriculum development. Educators who scan the microenvironment to identify new trends and developments in the social, technological, economic, environmental and technological sectors for curricular opportunities will put their institution ahead of the game. This requires having the tools, the training, and the incentive to transform these opportunities into curricular programs and materials (such as just-in-time textbooks, syllabi, and guest speakers-on hand, via conference call, or by satellite).

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 7/1/2003 8:43:14 PM. 19530 visitors since February 2000.