investments, experience, research, experimentation, and operator training. The development of innovative process and manufacturing technologies may offer opportunities for added value, although the costs of such development may be beyond the reach of financially limited SMEs.
Agility, flexibility, and responsiveness are becoming increasingly important in the current climate of rapidly changing customer and supplier needs. Flow manufacturing is a new approach that offers improved speed, response, and flexibility throughout the production, procurement, and order fulfillment process. The basic premise of flow manufacturing is the pull of materials through production and the supply chain based on actual customer demand, rather than the push of materials based on a preset schedule (Blanchard, 1999). Flow manufacturing encompasses many Japanese lean manufacturing techniques, such as reduced cycle times, reduced inventory, mixed-mode manufacturing, and line balancing. The strategy uses a planning horizon of several hours or several days rather than the 12-week horizon of traditional production planning.
Recommendation. Despite the increasing importance and glamour of Internet-based technologies, small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises should not ignore up-to-date manufacturing and process technologies. They remain essential for success.
Technologies for supply chain participation are available from a variety of sources:
Many universities are eager to license technologies developed in their laboratories. They are also willing to establish cooperative research and development agreements to develop technologies of interest to their academic staff. Thus, at reasonable cost, SMEs can have access to the same highly skilled people as large OEMs.
Government laboratories in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Energy are under incentive to license, at reasonable rates, non-classified technologies developed with public funds.
Modern communications have made it easier to learn about technologies developed in foreign countries. Some of these technologies are excellent and can be licensed. Representatives of the former Soviet Union, for example, are eager to sell or license technologies, especially for Western currencies.
Skilled employees and recent graduates can contribute greatly to the development of state-of-the-art technologies. Highly skilled