the Technology Interface / Winter98

Computer Integrated Manufacturing:

Challenges and Barriers to Implementation


Linda Ann Riley Leon Cox
Department of Industrial Engineering Department of Engineering Technology
New Mexico State University Department of Industrial Engineering
New Mexico State University


What company wouldn't want to be known as practicing a "CIM" philosophy? Conceptually, a company adopting computer integrated manufacturing practices suggests a forward-looking, innovative and technologically advanced operation. However in reality, CIM is neither appropriate nor cost-effective for many manufacturing entities. One of the greatest challenges to organizational diffusion of a CIM philosophy is the multi-dimensionality of the CIM construct. Just when is a company practicing CIM? What constitutes adoption? What type of metrics can accurately measure diffusion and CIM success? This paper overviews the challenges and barriers to CIM implementation. It investigates processes, operations, industries and situations that are most suitable for CIM applications, as well as those less so. Last, this paper presents a worksheet for conceptually assisting managers and engineers in making a CIM adoption decision.

Introduction - Exactly What is CIM?

Ask twenty engineers, twenty managers and twenty information technology specialists to define the concept of CIM, and you'll get sixty different answers. Computer integrated manufacturing has been described as everything from an intangible philosophy to a specific CNC program. Further complicating the process of arriving at a consensus for the conceptualization of the term, is the issue of where in the organization CIM resides. Is it a management tool, a planning tool? Is it a production floor activity? Or does CIM somehow fit into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) model?

Articles, academic studies and practitioner reports abound which attempt to provide CIM with some context. Some of these definitions involve a phased or dimensional quality. For example, Johansen et al. define CIM to include: "1. Factory communication hardware and software; 2. Data management, including collection, storage, and retrieval; and 3. Applications software and hardware, including material planning and control, quality systems, inspection and vision, computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM), and computer aided process planning/computer-aided engineering (CAPP/CAE)." [1] Others such as Weston, suggest that CIM consists of three dimensions; the engineering dimension which involves CAD/CAM and CAPP activities; the networking and systems dimension; and the continuous improvement dimension encompassing areas such as MRP II, TQM, JIT and theory of constraints (TOC) [2].

Still others see CIM as an integration tool, a tool which uses information and automation hardware and software for production control and management [3]. This school of thought views CIM as a total integrative tool for the organization, one which has the ability to increase productivity, quality and competitive advantage. Another organizational perspective of CIM is that of a "management technology that makes feasible the fully-automated factory-of-the-future." [4] With this perspective, CIM allows the organization to fully integrate and control all design and manufacturing functions.

Industry specific definitions of CIM also are prevalent in the literature. The print industry for one, has adopted certain CIM principles such as electronic data interchange (EDI); digital linkage of users and suppliers; and automation in the production and binding steps to move the industry from a labor intensive position to one of greater automation [5,6]. The machine tool industry is another industry frequently cited as practicing certain CIM concepts such as CAD, CAPP, CAM and MRPII [7]. For industry specific definitions, it appears that CIM provides a vast menu of possibilities for an organization. From this list of possibilities, decision makers select various processes, hardware and software which are then adapted to specific industry needs.

Another emerging trend in CIM literature involves product data management (PDM) systems. In today's manufacturing environments, the need for PDM is paramount because product technology is changing so rapidly. In addition to PDM, the database management system, (for example, an Oracle system), must be capable of integration with a particular network protocol, (TCP-IP, for example). This integration is essential for the development, delivery and support of object-oriented client/server business-critical documents. For successful CIM installation, PDM cannot be overlooked because it is, in reality, the backbone of data management in a CIM environment [8].

When is a Company Practicing a CIM Philosophy?

If a company uses a CAD program, is it CIM-savvy? How about a JIT system? Or TQM standards? At what point does a company move from a non-CIM position to one that encompasses a CIM philosophy? Can this movement be measured by the number of hard or soft technologies the company adopts? Or is the complete integration of only one CIM tool a better measure of a company practicing the CIM philosophy? Is a company a CIM company if the CEO has said it so?

One of the most difficult aspects in studying companies that have adopted CIM, is that there is no one right answer to any of the above questions. Can we use the same metrics and evaluation tools to compare a printing company with a tool shop when defining the practice of CIM? Alternatively, can we similarly judge a major aerospace corporation with a small paper mill? There is no definitive answer with respect to defining the practice and integration of a philosophy in a company. What one company may see as technologically advanced and CIM oriented, another may see as historically dated.

Unfortunately, most studies to this point have attempted to describe the company use of CIM as measured by indices. Johansen and group for one, gauged the integration of CIM in manufacturing organizations by creating indices that measured areas such as automation level; number of CIM technologies in use; and number of organizational functions affected by CIM integration [9].

Of late, there is also a body of research which suggests that there are human and organizational features of CIM. This research brings systems' behavior into the CIM picture. In some cases it is suggested that for CIM to be successfully implemented in an organization, strong leadership is a prerequisite. In other cases, CIM is seen as initiated by individuals at a shop floor level in response to immediate needs. These situations point to an adoption of CIM, initiated by individuals, as a response to system requirements.

Regardless of how the CIM philosophy is measured, it is clear that the identical set of metrics or heuristics cannot be applied to all companies collectively. Perhaps the very nature of the word "philosophy" prescribes a somewhat nebulous, yet unique conceptualization of CIM.

Challenges and Barriers to CIM Implementation

Probably the greatest barrier to CIM implementation is defining what exactly constitutes implementation. Very broadly defined, CIM includes a range of technologies which improve operational effectiveness and efficiency. More specifically defined, the implementation of CIM should address some organizational need such as faster time to market; reduced lead times; lower labor costs; or productivity improvements. Inherent in the implementation of CIM are defined metrics which allow the user to assess whether or not organizational needs are being met. CIM should never be implemented for the sake of following your competitor, following the industry, or following the latest organizational fad. If the implementation cannot be cost or otherwise rationalized, how can the decision ultimately be supported?

While there exists a number of case studies and testimonials singing the praises of CIM, it is far more difficult to find acknowledged examples of CIM failures in companies. One such study that does suggest that CIM is overrated is reported in IIE Solutions and was conducted by Abraham Seidmann from the University of Rochester [10]. The study reports that CIM has not lived up to its expectations in terms of anticipated returns. Seidman reports that this is primarily due to a perception that top management in the organization is not convinced of CIM's benefits. Without the backing of key decision-makers, corporate coffers will probably stay closed to CIM.

In other examples, some suggest that small companies are not appropriate venues for CIM implementation. Due to the considerable investment and risk associated with implementation of CIM tools and methods, the small company cannot justify its adoption [11].

Worksheet for Assisting Managers in Making a CIM Adoption Decision

In making a CIM adoption decision, a number of different questions and parties should be involved in the planning and implementation process. The following table proposes a number of issues for consideration to start the planning process.

Table 1 - CIM Planning Worksheet

Areas for Consideration in the CIM Adoption Decision
1. What need, challenge or problem are you responding to in the organization? For example: shorter order to delivery time; faster product development; responsiveness to customers; greater quality levels; better management; need for organizational integration; etc.
2. Where is this problem located? Primary area Secondary area
3. What are the implications of not addressing the problem/challenge?
4. What are the needs of each different department involved with the problem/challenge? Department Needs
5. What definition is our organization willing to accept for CIM?
6. What exact CIM tools or methods can respond to this problem/challenge? List CIM tools and methodsWho are the vendors? Who provides solutions?
7. What is the cost of implementing CIM? Are there different costs for different levels of implementation?
8. Who has provided the cost data for implementing CIM? (Reference documents of vendors) Vendor 1:

Vendor 2:

Vendor 3:

9. What is the anticipated return for the implementation of CIM for the overall organization? Economic justificationNon-economic justification
10. What is the anticipated return for the implementation of CIM for individual departments involved in the CIM implementation decision? Economic justificationNon-economic justification
11. What are the responsibilities for individual departments in deciding on, and implementing the CIM decision? Departments involved in deciding on CIM package -responsibilities Departments involved in implementing the CIM package- responsibilities
12. What is the timeline for implementing CIM? Reference a CIM planning document
13. Who in the organization needs to sign onto the CIM implementation decision? Individual Department Contact


14. What actions will be taken to assure that all individuals needed to sign on to the CIM decision have the proper information for supporting the project?
15. How will you know if the CIM implementation is successful? What type of metrics will measure success? Over what time period?
16. How long will you give the new system before determining it a success or failure? If a failure, what do you propose to do? What are your contingency plans?
17. What actions and plans will be taken to promote the CIM implementation success?
18. Future thoughts for further CIM implementation.
19. Define you CIM solution package.Compile the project implementation document


Adopting CIM requires the consensus of a number of organizational departments and decision makers. Since it is proposed that the construct of CIM is defined differently for each firm, a unique CIM solution package is proposed which will provide a roadmap for implementation. The preceding worksheet provides a beginning step in assisting those individuals involved with constructing the CIM solution package. Furthermore, the worksheet helps to define what form CIM will take, and consequently, what benefits it ultimately will provide to the organization and individual departments.


[1] Johansen, J., Karmarkar, U., Nanda, D., Seidmann, A., "Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Empirical Implications for Industrial Information Systems," Journal of Management Information Systems, Volume 12, Issue 2 (Fall 1995) pp. 59-70.

[2] Weston, F.C., "Three Dimensions of CIM," Production and Inventory Management Journal," Volume 35, Issue 1, First Quarter, (1994) pp. 59-64.

[3] See: Gould, L., "CIM is Easier than Ever," Systems Integration, (December, 1989) pp: 54-59.

[ul>Groves, C., " Hands Off Manufacturing Transcends Limits of CIM," Industrial Engineering, (August, 1990) pp: 29-31.

[4] Zachary, W., Richman, E., "Building an Operations Management Foundation That Will Last," IIE Solutions, Volume 25, Issue 8; pp: 39-46.

[5] Lamparter, W., "The Next Revolution?" American Printer, Volume 217, Issue 1; (April, 1996) pp: 34-41.

[6] Lamparter, W., "CIM for Print," American Printer, Volume 219, Issue 6; (September 1997) pp: 48-53.

[7] Aronson, R., "Lead Winners Find CIM is Key to Improvement," Manufacturing Engineering, Volume 115, Issue 5; (November 1995) pp: 3-69.

[8] Anonymous, "PDM Decisions-98," e-series document: found at

[9] Johansen, J., Karmarkar, U., Nanda U., Seidmann, A., "Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Empirical Implications for Industrial Information Systems," Journal of Management Information Systems, Volume 12, Issue 2 (Fall 1995) pp. 59-70.

[10] Anonymous, "Computer-Integrated Manufacturing: An Opportunity Missed," IIE Solutions, Volume 27, Issue 8, (August 1995) pp. 8-9.

[11] Samadhi, T., Ari, M., Hoang, K., "Shared Computer-Integrated Manufacturing for Various Types of Production Environment," International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Volume 15, Issue 5, (1995) pp. 95-109.