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Process Range in Manufacturing: An Empirical Study of Flexibility


  • David M. Upton

    (Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts 02163)


This paper examines the relationship between one form of manufacturing flexibility---process range---and structure, infrastructure, and managerial policy at the plant level. The paper provides evidence of the strength of the links between manufacturing flexibility and such factors as scale, technology vintage, computer integration, and workforce management. Data from 54 plants in the fine-paper industry are presented, and a model of the determinants of short-term flexibility is developed. The plants examined differed by a factor of 20 in their ability to accommodate large process variation. The evidence suggests that flexibility is strongly negatively related to scale and degree of computer integration, yet positively related to newer vintages of mechanical technology and workforce experience. Some results differ significantly from the prevailing view of the industry, in particular, that newer plants are less flexible. The paper shows that newer machine technology is more flexible once other factors are controlled for. In the longer term, the results show that management has a significant impact on the improvement of flexibility in operations, regardless of the technology and infrastructure in place. Plant network managers' views of flexibility are important. The data suggest that inflexible plants may be inflexible partly as a result of their being considered inflexible by network managers, and never being assigned the product range needed to improve the capability.

Suggested Citation

  • David M. Upton, 1997. "Process Range in Manufacturing: An Empirical Study of Flexibility," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(8), pages 1079-1092, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:43:y:1997:i:8:p:1079-1092
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.43.8.1079

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    Cited by:

    1. Pereira, Javier & Paulre, Bernard, 2001. "Flexibility in manufacturing systems: A relational and a dynamic approach," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 70-82, April.
    2. Vanteddu, Gangaraju & Chinnam, Ratna Babu & Gushikin, Oleg, 2011. "Supply chain focus dependent supplier selection problem," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(1), pages 204-216, January.
    3. Jayashankar M. Swaminathan & Thomas R. Nitsch, 2007. "Managing Product Variety in Automobile Assembly: The Importance of the Sequencing Point," Interfaces, INFORMS, vol. 37(4), pages 324-333, August.
    4. Marta Pérez Pérez & Ana María Serrano Bedia & María Concepción López Fernández, 2016. "A review of manufacturing flexibility: systematising the concept," International Journal of Production Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 54(10), pages 3133-3148, May.
    5. Taylor Randall & Karl Ulrich, 2001. "Product Variety, Supply Chain Structure, and Firm Performance: Analysis of the U.S. Bicycle Industry," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 47(12), pages 1588-1604, December.
    6. Parker, Rodney P. & Wirth, Andrew, 1999. "Manufacturing flexibility: Measures and relationships," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 118(3), pages 429-449, November.
    7. Saravanan Kesavan & Bradley R. Staats & Wendell Gilland, 2014. "Volume Flexibility in Services: The Costs and Benefits of Flexible Labor Resources," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 60(8), pages 1884-1906, August.
    8. Larry J. Menor & M. Murat Kristal & Eve D. Rosenzweig, 2007. "Examining the Influence of Operational Intellectual Capital on Capabilities and Performance," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 9(4), pages 559-578, May.
    9. Charles D. Brummitt & Kenan Huremovic & Paolo Pin & Matthew H. Bonds & Fernando Vega-Redondo, 2017. "Contagious disruptions and complexity traps in economic development," Papers 1707.05914,
    10. Wu, Y. & Frizelle, G. & Efstathiou, J., 2007. "A study on the cost of operational complexity in customer-supplier systems," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(1), pages 217-229, March.
    11. Gebauer, Judith & Lee, Fei, 2007. "Enterprise System Flexibility and Implementation Strategies-Aligning Theory with Evidence from a Case Study," Working Papers 07-0113, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Business.
    12. Lieven Demeester & Mei Qi & Luk N. Van Wassenhove, 2013. "Plant Networks for Processing Recyclable Materials," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 15(4), pages 670-688, October.
    13. Merschmann, Ulf & Thonemann, Ulrich W., 2011. "Supply chain flexibility, uncertainty and firm performance: An empirical analysis of German manufacturing firms," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 43-53, March.


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