The cumulative capability 'sand cone' model revisited: A new perspective for manufacturing strategy

Roger G. Schroeder, Rachna Shah, David Xiaosong Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The cumulative capability or the 'sand cone' model (Ferdows and De Meyer 1990, Lasting improvements in manufacturing performance: in search of a new theory. Journal of Operations Management, 9(2), 168-184) has been central in the debate on relations among dimensions of manufacturing performance. The central thesis of this model is that manufacturing performance is cumulative and sequential, with quality performance forming the foundation. An implicit assumption underlying the model is that the indirect effects of quality leading to delivery, then to flexibility and finally cost are stronger than direct effects among these same performance dimensions. Despite its frequent use, the sand cone model has not been empirically tested for direct and indirect effects or for the sequence of effects. Most tests have used correlations or regression relationships that only establish positive relationships among dimensions, not the specific sand cone sequence. We conduct two new tests of the actual sequence of the sand cone theory using data from 189 manufacturing plants. We do not find universal support for the sand cone theory, since some plants in our data appear to be following the sand cone sequence, while others are not. Our empirical tests support other limited evidence in the literature that a contingency theory is needed rather than an outright rejection or acceptance of the sand cone model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4879-4901
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Production Research
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 15 2011


  • competitive capabilities
  • cumulative capability
  • manufacturing performance
  • operations strategy
  • survey research


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