There was a time, quite long ago now, that I could be put in front of a PC and I would be confident that I could develop software to make the PC do anything that I wanted. I was the geek master of my little universe. It all came about through years of passion for software, starting with the purchase of one of the first kit computers while at University, an impoverished student driven by the desire to play “Space Invaders” for free. Once employed, and supported by the dawn of the modern IBM PC, the passion was directed toward manufacturing solutions, creating and developing hardware and software solutions to support the manufacturing environment.
I wasn’t the only “geek” at the party though. My “customers” in those days were people, engineers, who had a passion for and had studied hard in the field of Industrial Engineering. The level of detail that was put into the analysis of line and cell operations, the fractions of seconds designed in to optimise the flow and operation, it was amazing.
All was well in young Michael’s career for a while, working closely with Industrial Engineering teams, bouncing ideas back and forth, until disaster struck. Over time, the scope of solutions had changed, they had started to encroach into the area between engineering and production management. While engineering were happy to absolve themselves from the tedious detail that slowed down their creativity, the management aspect had lead to laziness. Production managers opted to let the computers manage their operations, and ultimately, take the blame for anything that went wrong, rather than using the systems as the tools that were intended.
Fortunately, only one person noticed this. Unfortunately, that person was the managing director of the production site. For me it signalled the start of the “Great Divide” in the appreciation of computer solutions. On the one hand, we want to gather data in as much detail as possible, as timely as possible, and as accurately as possible but without spending time, effort and cost to do so. We want to use the information immediately to prevent issues. We can do that. On the other hand, we want direct management to be intimately involved in the operation, and for them to make quick, reliable informed decisions as issues and opportunities arise, taking responsibility. This is still true today. A human manager cannot be all places at all times. The human cannot know that when an incorrect reel of material is placed on a machine that he must stop the machine. The system can. In this case, is it the system that causes the down-time, or the act of incorrect material placement? A simple example with an obvious answer, but multiply this by the complexity and scale of any manufacturing and assembly operation, and the answers are not so obvious.
Where are we today then? Are we still seeing the “geeks” of industrial engineering and software development working together at manufacturing sites? Actually, no, not so much. The main issue seems to be that the best engineers today are far more likely working in “more interesting” areas. Few people find the challenge of Industrial Engineering compelling. It is a skill that is almost lost. The software developers have also changed, evolving into IT professionals more interested in social websites that manufacturing shop-floors. IT is often now outsourced. That essential opportunity of the Industrial Engineer and the software developer getting together in manufacturing today is quite a rare case, and often is not sustainable. The state of the art has moved now into the realm of specialist providers of solutions, not the generic MES systems, but those founded on the core principles of manufacturing and software competence. Bottom line, you need to buy the system, such as of course our Valor MSS suite which at least for me represents the very best accumulation of such know-how and functionality. The “Great Divide” continues to exist however.
We cannot ignore however that other key ingredient here. The relationship between the system and human is very important. Systems can prevent issues that they are programmed to act on. The human however is much more sophisticated. We acknowledge the skill, experience and expertise of our production managers. The effect and benefits of their decisions are so much stronger when based on accurate, complete and timely information.
How then is the “Great Divide” conquered? How do we ensure that the systems don’t take over the management of manufacturing, but do provide the strongest of platforms on which manufacturing management can be implemented? Please take a look at our webinar series which explores the technologies behind successful MES. The next live webinar (also will be available on demand following the live broadcast) goes into this area to explain the necessary elements to manage information, creating the control and visibility in the right way to focus management on opportunities which they can then take credit for having made the right decisions……