Developing a line balancing tool for reconfigurable manufacturing systems : A tool to support investment decisions
Abstract: Purpose - This thesis aims to developing a decision-making tool which fits in a reconfigurable manufacturing system (RMS) milieu used to identify whether to introduce and produce a new product into an already existing assembly line or to invest in a new assembly line. To fulfil the purpose, four research questions were developed. Which line balancing problem-solving techniques exist in the literature? Which investment costs can be considered vital for new assembly lines as a consequence from new product introductions? Can a decision-making tool be designed to evaluate new product introductions which considers both line balancing KPIs and investment costs in an assembly line? To what extent can criteria in the RMS theory be linked with the attributes of the designed decision-making tool to support its applicability? Method - Literature studies were performed in order to create a theoretical foundation for the thesis to stand upon, hence enabling the possibility to answer the research questions. The literature studies were structured to focus on selected topics, including reconfigurable manufacturing systems, line balancing, and assembly line investment costs. To answer the third research question, which involved creating a decision-making tool, a single-case study was carried out. The company chosen was within the automotive industry. Data was collected through interviews, document studies and a focus group. Findings & analysis - An investigation regarding which line balancing solving-techniques suit RMS and which assembly line investment costs are critical when introducing new products has been made. The outputs from these investigations set the foundation for developing a decision-making tool which enables fact-based decisions. To test the decision-making tool’s compatibility with reconfigurable manufacturing systems, an evaluation against established characteristics was performed. The evaluation identified two reconfigurable manufacturing system characteristic as having a direct correlation to the decision-making tool. These characteristics regarded scalability and convertibility. Conclusions - The industrial contribution of the thesis was a decision-making tool that enables fact-based decisions regarding whether to introduce a new product into an already existing assembly line or invest in a new assembly line. The academic contribution involved that the procedure for evaluating the tool was recognized as also being suitable for testing the reconfigurable correlation with other production development tools. Another contribution regards bridging the knowledge gaps of the classifications in line balancing-solving techniques and assembly line investment costs. Delimitations - One of the delimitations in the thesis involved solely focusing on developing and analysing a decision-making tool from an RMS perspective. Hence, other production systems were not in focus. Also, the thesis only covered the development of a decision-making tool for straight assembly lines, not U-shaped lines.
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