186 Women In Engineering Careers – a Podcast Conversation

186 Women In Engineering Careers – a Podcast Conversation

As march into Women’s History Month, I welcome Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries. As a minority woman in a C suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company, Isabel has a plethora of unique insight on her path to success as well as advice for all women looking to spearhead their careers.

Yang says, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.”

Encouraging Women To Pursue Technical Work

Encouraging Women To Pursue Technical Work

I meant to post this Friday on the actual International Women’s Day, but since it is not an actual anniversary day, I guess missing by the weekend is OK.

Back in the 60s in my freshman engineering class, there were 700 total students. Seven were women. Plus, almost all the faces were white.

Today when I go to a technical conference the proportion of women is large. Perhaps 40% or so. And the cultural mix is similarly large. In many ways we have progressed. In other ways, there are still people, processes, and systems that prevent many people, especially women, from pursuing a technical career.

Several media relations people reached out to propose interviews with women in technology in order to tease out their career path as an example to others. Now, the junior and senior high girls who would be the target do not read this blog. I know, that is shocking! However, you are reading, and you could be encouraged to pass the thoughts along to those who might benefit from encouragement.

One such interview was with Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries She is both (as described by the PR person) woman and minority, an MIT PhD in engineering, who now holds a C-suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company. We actually recorded the conversation which will appear as Episode 186 on my long-running podcast series Gary on Manufacturing.

She told me, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.” She lived this out as an engineer honing one expertise, then as a business strategy analyst, then finally putting it all together as chief technology officer.

Last week I attended the ABB Customer World conference in Houston. Here, my media contact set up an interview with Susan Peterson Sturm, Digital Lead for Oil & Gas at ABB, and a cybersecurity expert.

She told me that people may not get a degree in cyber security. What happens is perhaps a woman earns a technical degree. As she becomes involved on an engineering team, she sees problems involving cyber security. Perhaps she becomes curious and dives deeper into the field. She reads articles and books, goes to conferences, makes contacts in the field. Then she becomes recognized in the field and earns an assignment. At this point (if not before), she learns that just being technical isn’t enough. She must learn how to influence people. Her effectiveness rises. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Empowering Frontline Workforce

Empowering Frontline Workforce

My thesis holds that the proper development and deployment of technology empowers workers to better perform their tasks. The keywords from my interview with Webalo at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando were “empower” and “tool”.

The conversations centered on the company’s launch of Webalo 5.0, the latest version of its no-code, frontline workforce app generation platform. Its User First approach automatically generates and personalizes apps from enterprise data sources, such those from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP as well as industrial data sources such as AVEVA, GE, Rockwell, and Siemens.

Webalo enables frontline workers through real-time access to actionable analytics, alerts, and notifications, as well as desktop and native mobile bi-directional interaction through intelligently managed workflows.

“Though the overwhelming majority of companies understand that frontline worker autonomy would boost their competitiveness, less than 30% of companies have been able to launch frontline workforce digital transformation projects because of the time, cost and complexity of traditional software development approaches,”said Webalo CEO Peter Price. “Webalo 5.0 automates the digital transformation of the frontline workforce at a fraction of the time, cost and effort of these traditional approaches, providing frontline workerswithreal-time, actionable,personalizedvisibility into their daily tasks and activities.”

Webalo 5.0’s specific features include:

  • Tighter integration with industrial data sources such as Historian databases and Manufacturing Execution Systems(MES).
  • Powerful “Connect & Deploy”–a no-code app delivery capabilitythat providesend users with the ability to easily generate new applications in an ad hoc, drag and drop manner, directly from their Webalo Desktop Client.
  • Actionable visualizations are now defined at the individual user level, providing frontline workers with the flexibility to create their own custom views of apps and share them with their co-workers.
  • Enhanced workflow management empowersfrontline workers in a more intelligent way,with multiple visualizations of the same task using different parameters.
  • Automatically-generated tasks and actionable visualizations to operate over MES asset hierarchies and Historian tags that makes the data more actionable and visible to all stakeholders.
  • Contextualized dashboards that provide embedded asset hierarchy, selectable timeframes and custom user inputs.
  • User-managed editors to create and modify trend charts,with out-of-the-box Historian services, allowing frontline workers to modify the way they request and display Historian tag values by selecting a Historian sampling mode from a drop-down menu, and then configuring the options that appear for that node.
  • PDF report generation providing a new way of sharing data interactively with co-workers.Webalo 5.0 is now available.
Public Perceptions of Manufacturing

Public Perceptions of Manufacturing

Experts using scare tactics in order to drive page views and notoriety get daily publicity talking about “robots” taking manufacturing jobs away from people. They never even dig deeply enough even to find the broader “automation” that they really mean.

I’ve written a couple of recent posts about this including a response from Jeff Burnstein of the Association for Advancing Automation.

Digging deeper, here is a new survey by Leading2Lean that measured public perception and understanding of the manufacturing as a whole – from its economic impact to awareness of job opportunities. It found stark differences between older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers) and Millennials.

Given a greater variety of jobs and careers today compared to when I (boomer) entered the workforce, I’d have to say the results are not dire. But they do reveal a failure of our leaders to get the word out about the importance of manufacturing to our society and the great careers that are available for people with many different levels of education and training.

A recent Manufacturing Index survey by Leading2Lean, a manufacturing software technology company and creator of CloudDISPATCH software, found that generation-affiliation significantly affected how Americans view manufacturing careers, the role of manufacturing in the U.S. economy, and the industry’s growth.

Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that manufacturing jobs are important to the U.S. economy. Older generations, particularly those born between 1946 and 1964 (Baby Boomers), and those born between 1965 and 1980 (Generation X), appeared better informed about the significance of these jobs to the U.S.

Eighty-six percent of Baby Boomers and Gen X respondents agreed that manufacturing jobs are important to the economy, while only 68% of Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1998, agreed.

“We were surprised by how the responses varied by generation,” said Keith Barr, CEO and President of Leading2Lean. “We are seeing some of the highest demand for skilled manufacturing jobs in recent history, yet it seems the industry has failed to keep younger generations informed about the skills gap or availability of great jobs.”

This difference in generational perspective was also reflected in a question about whether respondents agreed that manufacturing offers fulfilling careers. Only 49% of Millennials agreed, while 59% of both Baby Boomers and Generation X agreed. This underscores that Millennials are less convinced that manufacturing offers desirable career paths.

It is estimated that approximately 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next ten years, and 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled, according to recent data from The Manufacturing Institute. Despite this urgent industry need, half of Millennials indicated that they do not believe there is a shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. In comparison, 63% of Gen X and 60% of Baby Boomers indicated that they did understand there is a current shortage of skilled workers.

“We see from this data that we need to do better as an industry to show the younger generation how the industry has changed,” said Barr. “Manufacturing is more dynamic than ever before. Jobs in the industry involve complex problem solving and interesting technology. They’re not mind-numbing jobs that take place at dilapidated factories. And they offer competitive pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement.”

Millennials may not be aware that manufacturing jobs pay on average nearly three times the federal minimum wage for production and nonsupervisory employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For managerial roles, manufacturing offers pay competitive with tech sector jobs, according to 2018 data from Glassdoor.

Leading2Lean commissioned survey provider ENGINE to conduct the national survey at a 95% confidence level, surveying 1,002 respondents representative of U.S. demographics.

The Year of IT and OT

The Year of IT and OT

We should be so beyond talk of The IT/OT convergence.

This has not been a technology issue for years. If anything it is an organization and personal issue.

Executives continue to view their organizations as constructed of a variety of separate domains. This is often because there are all these SVPs running around who need an organization to lead. So, one has operations, another IT, another design, another marketing, and so forth.

When senior management wakes up to the fact that technology has broken the barriers long ago, maybe they can get their organizations to follow suit.

This year we should be talking about how all technology is meant to serve leaders and managers who are trying to build safe, productive, profitable companies.

The story should be about benefits of using technology; not about pitting one against another.

Survey Shows Humans Perform 72% of Manufacturing Tasks

Survey Shows Humans Perform 72% of Manufacturing Tasks

My response to automation and robot dystopian writers is that for the most part these technologies have removed humans from dangerous and monotonous manufacturing work. Humans are freed to do things using their heads as well as their hands. This report from A.T. Kearney and Drishti further contradicts hype about accelerating factory automation; demonstrates the need for greater investment in the human workforce.

According to new data released today by A.T. Kearney and Drishti, humans still perform 72 percent of manufacturing tasks. This data, from a survey of more than 100 manufacturing leaders, suggests that despite headlines about robots and AI replacing humans in factories, people remain central to manufacturing, creating significantly more value on the factory floor than machines.

Respondents also noted that there’s an almost universal lack of data into the activities that people perform in the factory. This analytical gap severely limits manufacturers’ ability to make informed decisions on capacity planning, workforce management, process engineering and many other strategic domains. And it suggests that manufacturers may overprioritize automation due to an inability to quantify investments in the human workforce that would result in greater efficiencies.

“Despite the prominence of people on the factory floor, digital transformation strategies for even the most well-known, progressive manufacturers in the world remain largely focused on machines,” said Michael Hu, partner at A.T. Kearney. “This massive imbalance in the analytics footprint leaves manufacturers around the globe with a human-shaped blind spot, which prevents them from realizing the full potential of Industry 4.0.”

While manufacturing technology has seen increasing innovation for decades, the standard practices for gathering and analyzing tasks done by humans – and the foundation of holistic manufacturing practices like lean and Six Sigma – are time-and-motion study methodologies, which can be directly traced back to the time of Henry Ford and have not been updated for the digital age.

“The principles underlying these 100-year-old measurement techniques are still valid, but they are too manual to scale, return incomplete datasets and are subject to observation biases,” said Prasad Akella, founder and CEO of Drishti. “In the age of Industry 4.0, manufacturers need larger and more complete datasets from human activities to help empower operators to contribute value to their fullest potential. This data will benefit everyone in the assembly ecosystem: plant managers, supervisors, engineers and, most importantly, the operators themselves.”

Additionally, the survey respondents noted the significant overhead needed for traditional data gathering methodologies: on average, 37 percent of skilled engineers’ time is spent gathering analytics data manually.

“Humans are the most valuable asset in the factory, and manufacturers should leverage new technology to extend the capabilities of both direct and indirect labor,” said Akella. “If you could give your senior engineers more than a third of their time back, you’d see immediate gains. Instead of spending so many hours collecting data, their attention and capabilities would remain focused on the most critical decisions and tasks.”

The survey also revealed the flip side of human contributions to manufacturing systems: Survey respondents noted that 73 percent of variability on the factory floor stems from humans, and 68 percent of defects are caused by human activities. Perhaps as a result, 39 percent of engineering time is spent on root cause investigations to trace defects – another manual expenditure of time that could be greatly reduced with better data.

“The bottom line is that better data can help both manufacturers and human operators across the board,” said Hu. “Data illuminates opportunities for productivity and quality improvements; simplifies traceability; mitigates variability; and creates new opportunities for operators to add even greater value. Humans are going to be the backbone of manufacturing for the foreseeable future, and the companies that improve their human factory analytics are the ones that will be best positioned to compete in Industry 4.0.”

To view the full report, click.

A.T. Kearney is a leading global management consulting firm with offices in more than 40 countries.

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