Digital Machines, Space, and Time

Digital Machines, Space, and Time

Digital Machines, Space, and Time: Towards a Behavioral Perspective of Flexible Manufacturing

Paolo Aversa, Marco Formentini, Daniela Iubatti and Gianni Lorenzoni

kHUB post date: March 12, 2021
Originally published: June 3, 2020 (PDMA JPIM • Vol 38, Issue 1 • January 2021)
Read time: 45 minutes

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Recently, the diffusion of digital machines has further enhanced firms’ manufacturing flexibility, but also opened questions on potential challenges and implications in the production process. To respond to these timely issues, this study adopts a behavioral perspective and comparatively explores how four different types of digital machines—characterized by increasing degrees of manufacturing flexibility—affect the perception and use of space and time for routines within the production plant. To this end, 45 digital manufacturing machines, sampled across 14 firms in the British and Italian motorsport industry, were qualitatively observed and compared. A model emerges where four key mechanisms reshape (1) the interactive space around the machine, (2) the innovation activities performed in the machine space, (3) the time within activities involving the machine, and (4) the time perception. Such mechanisms mediate the relationship between manufacturing flexibility and firm performance. Further, data show how increasing digitalization in the manufacturing process enhances the establishment of new routines as flexible machines get introduced in the production. Finally, theoretical and practical implications related to fostering a behavioral perspective in innovation and operations management studies are discussed.

Practitioner Points

  • Despite their ability to provide further degrees of manufacturing flexibility, digital technologies are far from being “plug‐and‐play” solutions.
  • To fully exploit their potential, managers need to develop a better understanding of the behavioral patterns related to their adoption in the production process, so far overlooked both in theory and practice.
  • The adoption of digital technologies influences the reshaping and development of novel routines related to “space” and “time” on the production floor.
  • Managers are advised to engage with specific training and assessments to help employees understand and adapt to the not‐so‐evident changes that the adoption of digital machines entail.

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