I response to international competitive pressures, Western manufacturing organizations have focused a great deal of attention on new techniques and technologies for improving manufacturing activities.1 Two dominant manufacturing strategies have emerged. One is the just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing system, originally developed by Toyota, which includes a range of techniques aimed at simplification and waste reduction within the manufacturing system. The other is the computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) approach, which uses computer-based information systems to link islands of automation, islands of information, and advanced flexible production technologies throughout the manufacturing organizational system.
Although these two strategies have been developed and adopted more or less independently and their compatibility is not well understood, managers generally assume that both approaches are advantageous for improving the productivity and competitiveness of manufacturing operations. For example, both systems are supposed to increase productivity by improving organizational integration, product quality, and manufacturing flexibility and responsiveness. As such, future factories can be expected to combine some of the characteristics of both the JIT and CIM approaches.
Empirically, however, what is known about the success of the two manufacturing approaches within industry is rather limited. JIT has been shown by Toyota and other Japanese firms to be an effective strategy for improving productivity when implemented appropriately.2 CIM is largely unproven; few well-documented case studies of the system are available. Most of the literature describing CIM considers the system from a purely hypothetical perspective and tends to consist mainly of predictions about its success based on the theoretical potential of CIM technology.3
Despite the limited amount of empirical evidence, there are some indications that the JIT approach is more likely to increase productivity than the CIM system. Two separate international surveys that attempted to examine the determinants of manufacturing productivity drew similar conclusions about the relative contribution the two strategies might make toward firm productivity.4 Both found, for instance, that JIT-type approaches aimed at reducing manufacturing throughput time and simplifying the production system were systematically related to higher productivity levels, whereas investments in advanced technologies showed no such direct relationship. Another study, which examined Italian manufacturing firms, found that JIT implementation was strongly correlated with an overall factory performance indicator as well as a wide range of individual manufacturing performance indicators (fifteen out of the seventeen indicators examined).