|by James L.
[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
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
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).