The fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development Exploring the link between the known and the unknown
Abstract: It is well known that a way of competing on a global market is through the introduction of new manufacturing technologies in the production system that can improve product quality as well as contribute to reducing manufacturing time, reduced product price and in the end increased profits. Manufacturing companies that develop and introduce new manufacturing technologies can differentiate themselves from others and thus achieve increased competitiveness.The fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development is characterized by a high degree of technology uncertainty and challenges due to the lack of access to relevant knowledge, lack of a structured development process, and enough resources that are working with development of new manufacturing technologies.In the literature only a few empirical studies that explore the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development can be found. Prior research highlights that little is actually known about what should be done in the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development projects, and thus more research is needed. Supporting the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development is important to facilitate a successful introduction of new manufacturing technologies, fast time-to-volume and long-term production system development.Based on the above-mentioned importance of developing new manufacturing technology, the objective of the research presented in this thesis is to explore the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development. In order to fulfil the objective, empirical data were collected from five case studies conducted in the manufacturing industry. During the empirical studies four important parts were studied: organising, knowledge development, collaboration and the development process.The main findings revealed that development of new manufacturing technology is often conducted in collaboration with external partners and many ad hoc decisions are taken due to lack of a predefined development process for the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development. In addition, in the fuzzy front end access to relevant manufacturing knowledge is important and knowledge needs to be developed in order to reduce technology uncertainty.In order to support the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development projects, a supporting framework has been developed. The proposed framework is an elaboration of results from the research questions addressed and can be used as a guideline to overcome the challenges observed in the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development projects. The framework is built on two important dimensions for innovations, degree of technology uncertainty and degree of novelty. The critical factors identified in the analysis are embedded in the proposed framework as central parts in the fuzzy front end of manufacturing technology development.
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