How should I refer to my chosen industry case study when discussing the use of ICT in modern manufacturing?

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When using an industry case study in an exam answer, it is important that you use lots of specific industry terms to demonstrate a high level of subject knowledge. In exam conditions you will not have long to answer your question, so it is also vital that you remain focused in order to include as many terms as possible. Ensure that you are not indulging in a tangent by periodically re-reading the question, and aim to keep your writing as concise as possible. 

When structuring your answer you should also try to make it obvious where the examiner should award marks: for example, the following answer is worth 14 marks, and I have described 7 uses of ICT in the car manufacturing industry: MPS, FMS, Sequencing, JIT, QRM, CIM and EPOS.

You should also make your chosen industry case study clear as soon as possible so that you can get straight to impressing the examiner with your detailed subject knowledge! Every example you mention should relate specifically to your case study, and the more detailed in your answer you are the better. I have highlighted the specific terminology used in my answer in bold to demonstrate what the examiner will be looking for.

In today's world, global manufacturing companies must organise and execute operations which span continents, making computer systems a logistic necessity, as well as vitally important in maintaining customer satisfaction and quality control. There is a wide variety of systems utilised by manufacturers to meet consumer demands, and each system must function in perfect synchronisation with the next to achieve maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness. To demonstrate the value of information technologies, I shall be using the car manufacturing industry as a case study.

In order to successfully manage the thousands of variables and processes which culminate in the mass production of finished cars, car manufacturing companies use an MPS (Master Production Schedule): a massive, detailed computerised plan which lists the necessary processes for each individual component. The MPS is also a business plan, including every cost-related detail, whether this means the machinery, wages or engine components, allowing for flexibility and foresight. In conjunction with this, the physical machinery used in the factories is often an example of an FMS (Flexible Manufacturing System), which is ideally suited to mass car production because the factory machines can be slightly altered upon the release of a new car model, thus avoiding the expense of replacing the entire factory floor. An FMS could involve press formers, in which case the die is simply replaced, or CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) punches, lathes or plasma cutters, in which case the data input can simply be updated. CNC plasma cutting is especially popular in car manufacturing, as alloys can be cut quickly and precisely with a stream of ionised gas which vaporises the metal.

The organisation of the various processes required is calculated through Sequencing: this means that the correct components are co-ordinated to arrive at specific times in their designated work cells. This system is essential for an efficient assembly line, and frequently involves computer-assisted tracks and robots. In terms of transit to the factory, Telematics is a recent but invaluable development: this is a system of tracking components to ensure a punctual arrival. Telematics is also available to customers, thus increasing satisfaction and attracting new customers with the promise of convenience.

However, in the car manufacturing industry it is not only important to punctually meet deadlines, but also to avoid meeting them with too much time to spare: the components and casings necessary to car manufacturing are frequently bulky and storing material which arrives before it is required is expensive. Thus, many factories use the JIT system: this is an ICT dependent system which means that the required part arrives just in time for assembly, as the various programmes electronically give the supplier advance warning of the quantity of desired product and exactly when it should arrive. Taking this one step further, more expensive, bespoke cars are often manufactured using QRM (Quick Response Manufacturing), a system wherein there is no existing stock, and thus no storage costs for materials, costs or final products, and each car is made to order. Furthermore, this allows the consumer to customise the design of the finished product, for example special wheels or a particular paint finish. QRM is an innovation responding to the growing popularity of online shopping: consumers now expect to be able to make customisations online, with no necessity to see a product beforehand.

CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) also enables direct communication between manufacturers and consumers, allowing stakeholders to become involved in the development of a product, with access to the MPS, Telematics and the results of any CAD (Computer-Aided Design) or Virtual Reality Modelling which may have been used in the design process. The available information could include horsepower testing simulations, digital renderings of the dashboard design, and safety test simulations, which are particularly popular in the car manufacturing industry due to the expense associated with smashing finished cars. This constant communication improves customer satisfaction and the reputation of the company, thus attracting more stakeholders.

The final system to be utilised is the EPOS (Electronic Point-Of-Sale), and involves the usage of bar codes and data communication tags to control stocks: this is not only used in the sale of the finished product, wherein it is becoming increasingly common to record information so as to track customers’ purchasing habits, but also in conjunction with QRM and JIT to control the restocking of materials and components. EPOS means that recalling faulty products is a more efficient process, and that the necessity of human intervention is reduced or even eliminated, leaving less chance of human error.

There is absolutely no doubt that these systems will continue to develop as the car manufacturing industry continues to evolve and improve, and they have become essential to industries across the globe, assisting manufacture, marketing, communication, supply, safety and customer satisfaction, whilst also helping to increase production and profit margins.

Elizabeth S. A Level English Literature tutor, GCSE English Literatur...

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is an online A Level Design & Technology tutor with MyTutor studying at York University

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