QRM and POLCA: A Winning Combination for Manufacturing Enterprises in the 21st Century

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by Rajan Suri; Technical Report, Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, May 2003

This paper is a revised and updated version of Quick Response Manufacturing: A Competitive Strategy for the 21st Century by the same author. It contains new results on the impact of QRM strategy as well as updated references to recent case studies on the application of QRM at various companies.


Today’s CAD/CAM technology gives us the ability to customize products without incurring high additional costs. Customer demands for personalized products, combined with Internet-based individualized ordering capabilities, means increasing demand for customized products.

Then after placing their orders, both OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and end users expect these products to be delivered quickly. Although lean manufacturing techniques can be powerful in certain situations, it has several drawbacks for companies making a large variety of products with variable demand or companies making highly engineered products. Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) can be a more effective competitive strategy for companies targeting such markets.

In this article, we give an overview of the QRM strategy, which focuses on lead time reduction throughout the enterprise. We also explain why lean manufacturing strategies of flow, takt time and pull don’t work well for these markets where customized products are in high demand, and why QRM has greater competitive potential.

Next we describe POLCA, a material-control system to be used as part of QRM. Again, we show why a kanban system (used in lean manufacturing for material control) is not appropriate for such markets. POLCA provides an effective method to support both manufacturing and material control for companies producing custom products. The combination of QRM and POLCA will provide companies with significant competitive advantage through their ability to quickly deliver customized products.