Scalability for Flexible Manufacturing Systems. Adapting to new Requirements

AAE (Grauel) pushes technical boundaries. We provide high tech printing & assembly solutions. We support smart printing and manufacturing equipment with Industry 4.0 technologies and solutions. This series of articles provide background information on how these developments are supported.



In today’s market it is important that a company can quickly and efficiently accommodate the manufacturing process to meet (changing) market demands. If the demand for existing products increases, the production volume should quickly be expended to meet this new demand.  

Especially with (budget) limitation on production floor space availability, this can prove to be a challenge. If a completely new automation solution is to be purchased, the lead time for delivery and installation play an important role in the way the new demand for the product can be met. A major challenge to overcome is to maximize the use of floor space in order to meet the (new) product demands (sometimes expressed in “revenue per square meter”).  

In this article we look at scalability of automation solutions, meeting variable and changing customer demands. In the first paragraph we look at the definition of scalability. We then look at the benefits of scalability and in particular at adaptability, scalability, & validation (floor space and software simulation included).  

In the third paragraph we review the system presented earlier (semi-automated configuration) where we look at expanding this configuration to increase output as well as adding more feeding stations to scale up the production. 

Original Configuration (to be expanded)

In the last paragraph we look at the limitations of an FMS (Flexible Manufacturing Systemas, although an FMS offers great possibilities, they are not always the best solution for automation requirements. Understanding the limitations provides solid ground for justified decisions.    


Principles of Scalability

Scalability may be defined differently depending on the system and literature used, but for this article use following definition: 

…capable of being easily expanded or upgraded on demand.


When looking at scalability, two main principles for manufacturing processes can be identified 

Scaling two principles

The first principle shows various identical elements (same design) which are linked together to provide scaled performance or functionality. The second principle shows a single element of the design which can be scaled up.  


Benefits of Flexible Manufacturing

The decision to invest in (complex) automation is not an easy one to make. Introduction of an FMS (Flexible Manufacturing System) even when carefully planned, requires dealing with a lot of decisionWhen (future) scalability is also to be reviewed, additional factors need to be considered making the planning process more complex. We look at these aspects in the next paragraph.  


Adaptability, Scalability and Validation

When new products are developed, the requirements often change, requiring adaptability. During scaling up, the manufacturing process may need to adapt to the changing market demands and conditions. This has an influence on the processes in place which should be flexible. An FMS can address these changes in requirements.  

Scalability very much depends on the degree of automation and the complexity of automation. If most of the automation is manual, new operators can be added to the process to scale up the production. With automated solutions in place, new hardware (hard manufacturing) can be added (requiring more floor space). The base condition very much determines the degree of scalability.  

The level of automation and complexity are to be taken into account to understand the possibilities of scalability, this is presented schematically below (based on the configuration presented in earlier articles). 

Complexity and degree of automation

With an FMS, new modules can be added, keeping the existing degree of automation with limited increase in complexity. This also has a positive effect on the required floor space (more details in the next paragraph). 

Validation becomes important for new (medical) products, where process validation is to be considered. When the volumes increase, new manufacturing methods may be introduced which may require (new) full process validation. This can be very time-consuming and also very expensive. If the products can be produced on the existing automation platform, the validation process can be performed faster allowing for earlier delivery of the products (as the products are produced on an automation platform already in use with proven performance).  


Floor Space

The production area is normally limited (and costly), especially when the products are produced in a clean(room) environment. If the demand increases, it is not always possible to add new floor space to the existing production area (or this requires intensive investment). An FMS allows adding new stations to the existing machine, maintaining almost the same floor space.  

The flexibility of the individual shuttles allows for asynchronical operation where different processes to be performed can be optimized with shuttles to buffer products before moving to the next process.   

An example is included below where a (1 meter) segment is added to an existing configuration, allowing (in this case) additional ultrasonic welding stations to be added (see also paragraph Scaling the FMS, new production modules and feeding stations). 

Flexible Manufacturing System – Adding a new Segment


Software Simulation

New processes can be tested in real time where the impact can be evaluated before they are introduced into the real world. The FMS operation can be verified using virtual testing tools (simulation or a digital twin).  

This provides much faster introduction of new processes with reduced risks when making a change-over or adding new production modules. An example of actual simulation (software) for a flexible system is shown below (the movement of the shuttles can be calculated and animated).  

Simulation of a Flexible System


Scaling the FMS, new production modules and feeding stations

When an FMs system is introduced, it can be extended (scaled) where additional “tracks” segments are added to increase the total track lengthWith this additional length we have created the space for additional (new) ultrasonic welding stations to the configuration (see our earlier articles for the original configuration)With these new modules in place, the output can be increased maintaining almost the same floor space requirement.  

FMS scaling depicted (original layout on the left, additionals added on the right).

In the existing configuration, two (2) additional US welding units can be added (image right hand) where the FMS has been increased with a 1-meter segment. The individual shuttles that transport the products can be reprogrammed to accommodate the new configuration (add new motion profile).  

To further scale up the production, additional feeding stations are added to fully automate the production. The feeding stations are added in various steps and for reference purposes, images are included below to show the various steps (and complexity involved). 

At this stage the fourth feeding station is added (after extending the FMS). For reference purposes the operator position is still present. 

Feeding Station 4.

Feeding Station 5.

Feeding Station 6.

In the example above, the complexity of automation and scalability becomes clearPlanning of the automation at the start of a project is very important and requires a strategic approach at an early stage 


Limitations of the FMS

Although an FMS offers great benefits for the production environment, it may not always be the best choice. In this paragraph we take a quick look at the limitation of an FMS.  

An FMS system introduces complexity (and cost). It may require a longer planning and development period than traditional manufacturing equipment. With the introduced complexity, technical staff, operators and management all need to be trained to correctly implement and operate the system. This may affect the companies’ operation.  

A flexible manufacturing approach also needs to be included in the company’s overall strategy this may be difficult to maintain when changing over from traditional (hard) manufacturing. Competing in the marketplace based on flexibility (rather than volume) requires a different strategy and approach and needs to be incorporated in the company’s strategy. 



Stay tuned for more, coming up next month! In the meantime, please consider following Grauel, a brand of AAE, on LinkedIn for weekly updates and extra content. 


Scalability for Flexible Manufacturing Systems. Adapting to new Requirements, by Ivo Brouwer – Business Developer Production Automation at AAE b.v.



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Flexible Manufacturing – strategy, levels, system, advantages, type, company, business, competitiveness 
Flexible Manufacturing – strategy, levels, system, advantages, type, company, business, competitiveness (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2021). 
Advantages & Disadvantages of Flexible Manufacturing System 
Advantages & Disadvantages of Flexible Manufacturing System (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2021). 
Ritchie, V. 
Ritchie, V. (2020) 8 Ways SuperTrak CONVEYANCE ™ Helps Life Science Manufacturers Uncover Automation Efficiencies – SuperTrakConveyanceSuperTrakConveyance. Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2021). 
How one manufacturing company managed to increase throughput and gain back 44% of their floor space. – SuperTrakConveyance 
How one manufacturing company managed to increase throughput and gain back 44% of their floor space. – SuperTrakConveyance (2019). Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2021). 

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