ICCS2004 Application Submission/Review

Abstract for
"The Building-Block Advantage"

The advances in the study of complexity and evolutionary processes bring new insights on how to describe production systems. It is argued in this paper that such new perspective provides new skills to cope with contemporary business challenges. It is known that nature operates through the recombination of independent parts – through a continuous process of rearrangement of “building blocks”. Likewise, along modern history, production systems have been benefited by this principle. The evolution from craft to industrial production shows that the focus has been changing from the individual’s talent toward the productive system’s capacity. The consequent complexification of production is a response to the selective pressures imposed by a socio-economic context that also becomes more complex. But most importantly, the greater adaptability and robustness gained by industrial productive arrangements to survive in such environment are due to successive processes of internal differentiation and aggregation – as it happens with natural complex systems. From fordist assembly line to cellular layouts, there are signs of recognition of the advantages associated with “building-blocks”. In the first, the building blocks are tasks or elementary operations that are arranged according to the processing sequence for a given product. In the last, these building blocks are arranged as a function of a group – a “family” –of products. This fact causes the emergence of aggregates – “production cells” – that are as “factories inside a factory”, producing a hierarchical organization typical of adaptive complex systems. As being more complex (in the sense of complexity theory) than assembly lines, cellular layouts become more flexible and adaptive, as competitive markets require. Escaping from the extreme of chaos represented by craft production, the classic age of industrialization took advantage of standardization (that is the identification of building blocks and multiple possibilities of recombination) and guaranteed a long period of stable success. However, some decades ago, this orderly scenario was threatened and industrial organizations were forced into the edge. Fortunately, the edge between order and chaos is a place full of possibilities. In this regard, this paper aims at pointing out how knowledge about recombination of building blocks and aggregates formation may contribute to the manufacturing strategy of organizations that are trying to develop new capacities for thriving in a complex world.