This paper investigates the dynamics of accumulation processes of strategic capabilities in manufacturing, i.e. cost, quality, time orientation and flexibility. The analysis is conducted with the help of an exploratory system dynamics model that represents a hierarchy of these accumulative capabilities. By applying a dynamic view, concepts from the operations management literature are tested and shortcomings are identified. In a further step, the exploratory model is parameterized with empirical data from a large international survey of manufacturing plants. Implications concern the distribution of managerial attention on the different capabilities and its dynamic consequences. The value of this paper lies in the insights gained by the transformation of a verbal model in a quantified simulation model and the learning resulting from simulation experiments.