Automation and people. Some people think that they are opposed to each other. A zero-sum game.

As I developed the editorial focus of the old Automation World, I wrote about how they actually go together. In the very first issue, I interviewed a Lean practitioner. I had to convince him. He told me that automation was bad. People could do better every time. Wait, I responded. Let’s not go overboard here. There are definitely things I’d rather have a machine and automation do for both consistency and safety reasons.

Sometimes a job is just boring. People lose attention. Either quality or safety suffers.

Smart Work Mindset

timSowellTim Sowell’s latest blog post reminded me of that old discussion. The difference is, well aside from about 100 IQ points and that he’s contemplating while watching the Pacific, that he’s updated the idea while taking it to another level.


[At] one company I was engaged with last week their thought pattern was still about replacing the personnel on the plant, going to total automation. While I agree with automation, it is required for consistently and velocity of production. But I struggle with agility.

Two days latter I was at another company and they were all about empowerment of people. They wanted to automate process and operations to free up people to add complimentary agility and “out of the box” thinking.  As one C level said to me, our market is changing as fast as we ever seen.

Stepping back and looking at both these companies the second company was more automated than the first, and the second was investing in automation more than the first. But their attitude was to gain consistently and free up people from repeatable tasks, and increase the responsibility of people, and empower people to make decisions fast.

The diagram below really depicts what I started to introduce last week, and what this second company believed in.

Agile World Tim Sowell Schneider

Notice how he has applied the idea to agility. The automation mindset looks for consistency over a longer production run. The foundation of Lean is respect for people (and how their ideas improve the process). Sowell’s second company was “all about empowerment of people.”

He continues with the thought:

The key thinkers in the industry are not looking to dependency on 1 to 2 people, they are leveraging the concept of “crowd sourcing” thru a active community of people. As we look at the operational/ automation world of the future the key pillars will be:

  • Ability to capture knowledge and intelligence into the system to automate process, and operations. Key is this is not just traditional automation in PLCs/ DCS etc, it is capturing repeatable knowledge and decisions. So the system must bread a culture of contribution and use natively.

  • Ability to have a community of workers who can share collaborated “naturally” with ease, no matter the location of the users and state. Foundational to this is  the ability trust the information, the measures so a common understanding of the situation, and basis for decision can be made.

Check out his blog. It’ll make you think. And that is a good thing.

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