Generic manufacturing strategies: A conceptual synthesis


  • The research presented is part of the activities of the ‘Technology Strategy Group’ within a large industrially sponsored computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The industrial sponsors (Alcoa. Eastman Kodak, Digital, IBM. GM, GE, Norton. Northrop. United Technologies) provided partial financial support, resident engineers, and most importantly, a context and a critique for the research. In addition AT&T has provided partial support in the form of curriculum grant titled Information Management for Manufacturing. The authors are solely responsible for any errors or oversights in this paper.


This paper provides a conceptual framework that links manufacturing to business unit strategy and focuses on developing the notion of ‘generic manufacturing strategies’ at the strategic business unit (SBU) level. Specifically, an explicit conceptual link is drawn between ‘generic’ business unit strategies and ‘generic’ functional structures in manufacturing. It is proposed that the alternate manufacturing structures implicitly represent ‘generic manufacturing strategies’. Drawing on ideas and concepts from the business strategy literature and manufacturing literature the paper links Porter's generic strategy framework to a complementary manufacturing structure framework that uses three dimensions: process structure complexity, product line complexity, and organizational scope. Viewed from different perspectives, the ‘manufacturing contingency theory’ concepts presented implicitly in the paper can be viewed as an extension of classic research on the interdependence between strategy and structure. The frameworks developed here provide a partial synthesis of knowledge in the broader disciplines of engineering and management without sacrificing academic rigor and practitioner relevance.