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Bryan Pflug's blog

Promising opportunities to integrate manufacturing

Figure 1

In an analysis of technology advances to manufacturing opportunities, McKinsey & Company describes the promise of potential benefits available from "currently demonstrated technologies", which they characterize as exhibiting "the level of performance and reliability needed to automate one or more of 18 capabilities involved in carrying out work activities. In some cases, that level of performance has been demonstrated through commercially available products, and in others through research projects." Their promise follows:

We emphasize that the potential for automation described above is created by adapting and integrating currently demonstrated technologies. Moreover, it is notable that recent technological advances have overcome many of the traditional limitations of robotics and automation. A new generation of robots that are more flexible and versatile, and cost far less, than those used in many manufacturing environments today can be “trained” by frontline staff to perform tasks previously thought to be too difficult for machines—tasks such as picking and packing irregularly spaced objects, and resolving wiring conflicts in large-scale projects in, for example, the aerospace industry. Artificial intelligence is also making major strides that are increasing the potential for automating work activities.

The core disciplines - applying the scientific method to processes

imageThe scientific method is the basis of our modern world. The method involves the steps of developing a hypotheses, planning and performing experiments, and evaluating the results. Completion of these steps does not guarantee a successful outcome on the first try, but has the advantage of eventually converging on a solution (if indeed a solution can be found). Most are familiar (though not necessarily experienced) with these steps, but overlook the fact that unless a core set of disciplines are used throughout these processes, the results produced by the process may not be valid.

Within process improvement communities, Edward Deming taught his disciples how to apply this scientific method through his PDCA framework. The PDCA steps also are self-correcting, and require a similar set of underlying disciplines to be successful. These disciplines help ensure that when observations are made about a phenomenon or an outcome, the results are sufficiently reliable to be acted on, and that those actions will eventually produce what is desired. These disciplines are key to establishing a research organization's maturity in performing the scientific method consistently and produce results over time that can be reproduced by others, during peer reviews. The maturity of an endeavor is thus judged by their ability to consistently apply a process, make valid observations about it, and successfully act on those results, especially as techniques, people, technology, and hypotheses evolve over time.

Stewardship of products throughout their lifecycle

imageThe effectiveness of an organization in fulfilling their stewardship responsibilities across the full lifecycle of their products can be evaluated in two ways:

  • by considering how effectively resources are being utilized in the near term
  • by reviewing the quality of information available for strategic and tactical decision-making for longer time horizons.

Once a product has been designed, manufactured, and has been placed into service within a particular operational environment, the robustness of it's engineering definition and the maturity of the integration, manufacturing, assembly, and verification processes used to replicate it at scale come into clearer focus. Then, as flaws with the product's heritage are found, customers have a legitimate expectation that they will be resolved quickly and satisfactorily.

Stretch goals

imageStretch goals are a common (but flawed) means for leaders to set ambitious targets in the hope of challenging them to achieve unprecedented levels of team performance. Such goals are best considered by examining them in the context of the unique aspects of the environment in which they are being pursued, considering the historical causes of gaps between desired and actual performance, and after making realistic provisions for the most significant impediments to progress. Instead, these stretch goals often are described in terms of unarguable aspirations in an attempt to initiate action and encourage out-of-the-box thinking - usually along with hopes that such goals will motivate the team to pursue their own grand visions.

What is experience worth?

imagePeter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, has written an interesting essay on learning to program in 10 years. In it, he points out the limits of what can actually be achieved within training programs and development opportunities. He uses the example of learning the syntax of a new programming languages, and contrasts this with how long it takes to actually become proficient in applying the language to design problems. Although his expectations of education may be low - consider his performance evaluation of Albert Einstein - his insights about the challenges of developing competencies for higher levels of performance are right on target.


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