Flexibility is used as an attribute of various types of systems. In the field of engineering systems design, it refers to designs that can adapt when external changes occur. Flexibility has been defined differently in many fields of engineering, architecture, biology, economics, etc. In the context of engineering design one can define flexibility as the ability of a system to respond to potential internal or external changes affecting its value delivery, in a timely and cost-effective manner. Thus, flexibility for an engineering system is the ease with which the system can respond to uncertainty in a manner to sustain or increase its value delivery. Uncertainty is a key element in the definition of flexibility. Uncertainty can create both risks and opportunities in a system, and it is with the existence of uncertainty that flexibility becomes valuable.
Flexible Manufacturing System
Flexibility has been especially thoroughly studied for manufacturing systems. For manufacturing science eleven different classes of flexibility have been identified , :
Machine flexibility - The different operation types that a machine can perform.
Material handling flexibility - The ability to move the products within a manufacturing facility.
Operation flexibility - The ability to produce a product in different ways.
Process flexibility - The set of products that the system can produce.
Product flexibility - The ability to add new products in the system.