Frank Blake On Leadership Vision Or The Inverted Pyramid

Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast is the best place on the Web to find consistent advice and teaching about leadership from leaders.

While listening to today’s episode—a replay of a conversation with retired CEO/chairman of Home Depot, Frank Blake, I had a flashback to a time when I had a vice president role with a small automation equipment designer and builder. Everyone was gone at the end of the day. I walked from the offices to the shop floor noticing all the machines sitting there in various stages of completion. A feeling of responsibility and burden infused me. I felt responsibility for employees’ jobs and customers’ successes. I thought, I need to get this right.

This reflects the feeling expressed by Blake about the Inverted Pyramid. In place of the usual organization structure pictured by a pyramid with customers (or employees) at the bottom and successive layers building up to the CEO sitting at the top. Blake inverted it at Home Depot. The pyramid starts with the point at the bottom inhabited by the CEO. Then the layers build to the employees and then the customers at the top. One interpretation of the graphic is that the CEO supports everyone, not the other way around.

Early in my product development training mentors drilled into me customer first. When we developed a new feature or option or product it was in response to solving a customer need. We didn’t do it because there was a cool new technology we could force through the system. “We do this technology because the customer…”

Thought of the day, whom do you support?

Control and Automation Solution for Sugar Manufacturers

Today’s email barrage brought Bill Lydon’s Dozen Automation and Control Trends. I haven’t compiled a “Dirty Dozen”, but this news from ABB Process Automation surely reflects a trend you’ve seen coming for some time. That is application specific solutions. The first I saw were specific packages for MES. Now libraries for specific applications of control and automation. I’m thinking these should be valuable to you. If you’ve found them less than helpful, you might send me a note.

ABB has launched its latest release of ABB Ability Sugar Library enhanced with new functionalities to serve as a control engineering inventory for sugar manufacturers. It will help to reduce engineering costs and development timelines, simplify expansions and eliminate errors in engineering and improve quality and reliability in operational use.

The release features a range of specifically designed templates for sugar process applications in beet and cane sugar industries. It fulfils all process area requirements including raw material handling, purification, crystallization and sugar handling, and now evaporation and filtration. Customizable templates will result in engineering efficiencies. For operators, efficient monitoring of process helps to optimize resources and energy usage.

A high-performance human-machine interface (HMI) has been designed for fast detection and resolution of process disturbances, with alarm messages. In maintenance, teams will gain the right information at the right time, with tracking and trends visually available. The auto-reconfigurable dynamic, high-performance HMI visualizations provided in the library for selected operations will greatly reduce the commissioning time and will also help plant engineers and operators to focus on continuous improvement.

Looking for another entrenched trend? Try sustainability. It’s everywhere these days.

Among sustainability advantages, ABB Ability Sugar Library features a steam economy mode that ensures no more steam than required is generated during the evaporation phase. It is also collected and reused for the crystallization phase, saving any fuel used to make the steam and therefore reducing production costs. The solution is built from knowledge attained through collaboration with major process and equipment suppliers and sugar manufacturers. This ensures that the latest process control philosophies are incorporated within the library. It comprises components for control and supervision, with each a complete functional unit ready for use and able to be adapted to specific user needs.

Sugar manufacturers can take advantage of ready-to-use templates with control schemes for not only vacuum pans and associated Brix control, but also for all other critical process areas including purification, evaporation and raw material handling along with associated process equipment. Library provisions include efficient boil up curves with customizable algorithms. Operators will experience improved control for steam economy, better shape and homogeneity for crystals, with alerts and data logging capabilities throughout.

Intellectual Discipline

The man sat next to me at lunch at the conference I attended last month in Florida. He is a reliability engineer. His professional life has a foundation built on numbers. He began talking about Covid and how he and his wife had both contracted a bad case of the virus. She took a medication recommended by few doctors. She did recover. I’m not talking about medicine here.

He quoted statistics from India to support their decision.

I was surprised. He has far more training in numbers than I, yet he quoted statistics that had a spurious rigor. If he used numbers like that in his plant, some very expensive equipment would be broken.

We all get suckered in by statistics that are incomplete or misleading. And we all can miss those numbers that tell us something important. We should stop and consider when we see numbers thrown around in the news or across the dining table.

Soon after my conversation, I ran across The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics by Tim Harford. This book does not require a background in math. It is readable. Packed with stories about people who famously got the numbers wrong and those who got them right. This book will help you not be fooled by every number you see flashed at you.

I suppose I should hint at the ten rules.

  • Stop and notice our emotional reactions
  • Combine the “bird’s eye” statistical perspective with the “worm’s-eye” view from personal experience
  • Look at labels on the data, do we understand what’s really described
  • Look for comparisons and context
  • Look behind the statistics at where they come from
  • Ask what is missing
  • Ask tough questions about algorithms and the big datasets
  • Pay more attention to the bedrock of official statistics
  • Look under the surface of any beautiful chart or graph
  • Keep an open mind

And finally, Harford’s “golden rule”—a good trait to develop for life in general—Be curious.

Proficy Historian Updated for 2022

Steve Pavlosky, Principal Product Manager Proficy Historian and Data at the Edge, talked with me about this latest release of Proficy Historian by GE Digital. I asked him for the important points. He responded, “It’s our extreme scalability of up to 100 million tags.” Further, this release allows customers to choose their cloud environment and how much data they want sent to the cloud of their choice. It sounds like there are some cool things coming later in the year. Glad to hear about the progress. With OSIsoft now part of AVEVA, I am interested in how market competition may (or may not) change. So this is interesting.

Here is the release.

GE Digital today announced the availability of its latest version of Proficy Historian, a historian software solution that collects industrial time-series and Alarms & Events (A&E) data to analyze asset and process performance to drive business value. Proficy Historian 2022 has a flexible and scalable architecture – from sensor to enterprise – that makes it foundational for Industrial Internet deployments.

Used by thousands of companies around the world, Proficy Historian has helped a global chemical company create a single industrial data repository across its plants for improved visibility and insights, delivering a 20% increase in capacity; a large power monitoring and diagnostics center achieve tens of millions in cost savings for customers in just one year along with 5% reduction in unplanned downtime and 20% reduction in IT infrastructure costs; and a leading industrial gas company reduce costs by consolidating to one historian and eliminating more than 100 servers.

This new version boosts large-scale deployments with enhanced system management and connectivity, value from data with a new Asset Model associated with Historian data, and significant improvement in collection throughput and encryption. Proficy Historian 2022 also features improved system management with a modern single administrator across the Proficy portfolio that increases productivity. It also provides new capabilities for managing multiple systems from a “single pane of glass.”

“GE Digital has made significant strides with Proficy Historian 2022. With features like decentralized data collection, excellent data volume handling, scalability from on-premise to hybrid Cloud to full Cloud, plus remote management, and an OPC UA Server, Proficy Historian is now one of the leading historian products on the market,” said Joe Perino, Principal Analyst, LNS Research. “No longer is there a default choice in historians. If GE Digital’s Proficy Historian is not on your short list, it certainly should be.”

A centralized collector configuration within Proficy Historian 2022 allows companies to utilize remote data collectors to reduce maintenance costs and downtime. This simplified enterprise-wide management makes Proficy Historian the best solution on the market for widely distributed data collection in large water utilities, organizations such as oil & gas and power generation and grid operators, and multi-plant manufacturing. In addition, it provides horizontal scalability, so all clients have access to all data, without the need for consolidation in a central enterprise historian. 

Growing Interest In Magnetic Robot Grippers

A few years ago I wondered if there was much more advancement coming with industrial robots. Then two technology trails appeared. One was the development and interest in collaborative robots. The other applied new technologies for improved grippers and end effectors. This piece of news comes from Festo, who reports increased interest in the Electric Series (E-Series) of intelligent magnetic grippers from Magswitch, Lafayette, Colorado. Festo has been a Magswitch distribution partner since 2019.

Magswitch E-Series intelligent magnetic grippers are not electromagnets nor are they EPMs (electropermanent magnets). Magswitch E-Series units contain proprietary switching technology that enables reduced energy consumption, faster actuation, intelligent magnetic gripping, part correct/part incorrect feedback capabilities, and two to three times the holding forces of any similarly sized electromagnet or electropermanent magnet. Pole shoes that shape the magnetic field are offered in standard and custom configurations to ensure the correct grip for the application. 

Magswitch E-Series intelligent grippers are smaller than electromagnets, which reduces the size of end of arm tools. With less weight and size, designers are frequently able to use a smaller robot, thus lowering capital cost as well as reducing footprint.

E-Series magnetic grippers are sought after in stamping applications, including progressive dies. In a stamping operation, intelligent variable field output can separate a single blank from a pile and then identify whether the blank is the correct thickness. These units can identify and grip individual blanks down to .6 mm in thickness.

In resistance spot welding applications, E-Series units provide single-sided gripping technology, eliminating the need for clamps. With clamps removed, the spot weld gun is provided simpler access to the product. With a rapid on/off actuation time of 250 milliseconds, the E-Series lowers cycle time compared to clamps.

E-Series intelligent magnetic grippers can be used in many other applications, including automotive assembly, white goods manufacturing, heavy industrial manufacturing, electronic assembly, bin picking, measuring, checking, ergonomic lift-assist, and collaborative cells.