Tag Archives: Industry 4.0

Excelize Me: 4 Myths & 4 Realities of Racing to Automate

On the eve of our celebration of the American Revolution, here’s a post about another revolution: Industry 4.0.

excelizeITWho remembers VisiCalc, often referred to as the first killer app?  In 1978, this first spreadsheet software ushered in the personal computing boom.  Although it only ran on Apple’s priciest computer (the one with massive 32K RAM), its ability to calculate and recalculate arrays had much to do with the explosion of information automation. By 1985, a next-generation product name Excel conquered the market with significantly more computing capability than its predecessors, eventually adding macros, graphics, nested arrays and easy interface with many other applications.  Today Excel is reportedly in the hands of some 1.3 billion users.  It’s a fascinating tool with more features than almost anyone can use.

But fascination with information automation can be problematical.  In 1996, while TSSC was assisting my company with improvement to machine set-ups, I used Excel to devise an A3 improvement plan complete with graphical VSM current and target states, problems and countermeasures, and milestones and results (documented in a 2012 post, “Value Stream Wrapping.”)   When I proudly showed the document to my teacher, he scoffed “You should spend more time observing, and less time making it pretty.”

I’m reminded of this advice every day during my work with customers.  Why do we feel the need to digitize everything?  From strategic planning to training to project management to idea systems to problem-solving to pull systems, we race to automate, believing that these are improvements.  Here a few myths from Lean implementers, quoted verbatim that I’d like to debunk in honor of my teacher from TSSC:

 

Myth 1:  “We cascade our strategy online to every department creating a line of sight from corporate down to individual department metrics.”
Reality:  Too often this multi-level bill of activities replaces the kind of human discourse needed to effectively communicate and deploy strategy.  An X-type Matrix, for example, nested to multiple levels does not illuminate, it hides connections that would be immediately apparent on a physical strategy deployment wall.

 

Myth 2: “Putting our Idea System online has increased the visibility of ideas.”
Reality:  Online Ideas System software hides ideas.  A factory employee recently referred to her company’s Ideas App as a “black hole.”  Also, when ideas are digitized, the visual nature of a physical idea board is lost to myopia.  We view ideas one at a time rather than components of a system.  And, even though computer literacy of the average employees is improving, the thought of using an app still scares many employees away.

 

Myth 3: “Electronic huddle boards provide real-time standardized information.”
Reality:  Sure, LCD’s are cheap today – maybe even cheaper than a decent whiteboard – but electronic huddle boards suck the life out of creativity and ownership from the front line.   One supervisor complained to me, “It takes me much longer to enter information to the huddle board application than it did to simply write on the whiteboard.  I update it when I can find the time.”   Hardly real-time.

 

Myth 4:  “We are conducting our Lean training online to save time and money.”
Reality:  No doubt, there is an explicit component to Lean learning that may be accomplished sitting a computer screen, and there are slide shares for this, some available through Groupon for peanuts; but real learning only occurs through hands-on practice and coaching.  This is especially true for Lean learning where concepts are counter to conventional thinking.  While the Internet offers an incredible resource for learning, it’s not a substitute for tacit learning — learning by doing.  Organizations that think they are saving time and money by using only online training are actually wasting both.

 

Implicit in all of these myths is the replacement of manual management of information with a machine function – call it the Internet of Things or Industry 4.0, our next industrial revolution.   But what will be the benefits?  Will the killer apps really make industry more flexible and efficient, or will they merely dehumanize the workplace.  What do you think?  Can you cite any other IoT myths?  Please share.

 

Happy 4th.  For iPhone and iPad users only, here’s a fireworks app J

O.L.D.

PS I’m hosting a free “Tea Time with The Toast Dude” webinar and a discussion about Idea Systems, next week after the holiday. Are there gaps that hold you back? Ideas Systems are one of the most powerful and impactful means to engage “everybody everyday” in your improvement process. Yet many fall short of their potential for lack of participation. Join me on Tuesday, July 10 for a “Summer check-up of your idea systems”. What’s working, what can be improved? See you then! Register here.

Rosie the Robot

Speaking at the 2003 Shingo Conference, Guy Briggs, General Manager of North American operations for General Motors lamented,

“We spent the 1980’s ‘counting robots’ before we realized that it’s people that make the difference in our business.”

He was alluding to the thirty-five billion (yes, billion) dollars that GM had invested in the 1980’s over a three-year period to develop “lights-out” robotics technology.  As Toyota sought to elevate employees, GM tried to automate them out the picture.  Ultimately, GM’s lights-out people-less ‘flexible manufacturing systems’ were deemed unworkable and were mothballed.  All told, GM spent 90 billion dollars in the 1980’s to “modernize” its operations, touted by many as Industry 3.0, the third industrial revolution.   At the beginning of that revolution, GM was the lowest cost US auto supplier.  By the end, it was the highest.  The greatest shame in this saga was not so much the money squandered on equipment, but time lost by adopting the wrong philosophy: one that idolized technology while disrespecting people.

Rosie2The recent increase in Industry 4.0 buzz has me reflecting on that now ancient history of GM’s ill-advised strategy and thirty-year slide that culminated ten years ago with a $50 billion government bailout and the firing of its CEO.  To be sure, the multi-techno advances since the 1980’s are startling.  There are bright promises of robots that learn, linked multi-sensory process coordination and instant informative feedback; of analytics, complex simulation and additive product development and manufacture.   Today’s Internet of Things dwarfs the early attempts at General Motors to automate its factories, and the science just keeps accelerating.  So this should be cause for optimism.

RosieRobotUnfortunately, history gives reason for skepticism as well.  First, CEO math has not changed since 1980: Rosie the Riveter is still an expense, but Rosie the Robot is an investment!    Industry 4.0 proponents are quick to point out that smart robots will work alongside humans, not in place of them.  As Guy Briggs noted in 2003, we should not fall prey to counting robots.  But, notwithstanding Mr. Briggs remark, I wonder how far most organizations have progressed with an enlightened social science to support the rapidly evolving IoT and complementary production technologies.  As the glitzy new 4.0 technologies become more accessible, will they be viewed as an enabler for human capabilities and development, or will make the same mistakes we made with industry 3.0.   What do you think?

O.L.D.

PS If you’re in the New England/Massachusetts/Rhode Island area, I wanted to highlight a great training event GBMP is putting on next week. It’s a two-day Improvement Kata workshop on Monday & Tuesday, December 4-5, being hosted onsite at Boston Orthotics & Prosthetics in Avon MA. Read more about it here.

Also, GBMP is offering a Holiday special on membership through New Year’s Eve. Use coupon code “Save50” to join our awesome Lean Community. Read more and sign up here.