Where Do You Get Information?

Where Do You Get Information?

I like the push notices of email to tell me that there is new information posted somewhere. But the last email telling me about Tim Sowell’s latest post was sad. He’s stopping his run of thought leadership (truly) pieces at Operations Evolution. Sowell is a Schneider Electric Fellow and VP of System Strategy at Schneider Electric in the Common Architecture team in R&D.

This post will be my final one in this blog, as forum does not seem to be working as it once did, and we exploring new approaches to getting thought leadership out. Thank you for your interest if you feel like we should continue in some form, please post a comment.

Here’s his lead paragraph. Discover the rest of his thinking on the site.

In today’s “flat world” of demand-driven supply, the need for agility is only going to move faster in the next 10 years. This is driving leading companies to transform their operational landscape in systems, assets and culture in a shift to “smart work.” Agility transforms their thinking from a process-centric to a product and production focus, which requires a dynamic, agile work environment between assets/machines, applications and people. Aligned decisions and actions across a multi-site product value/supply chain is crucial, and  requires the ongoing push of a combination of automated (embedded) wisdom and augmented Intelligence (human wisdom).

Manufacturing / production companies have accumulated tremendous amounts of data over the past decades. Mostly they do nothing with that data. People like Sowell and Stan DeVries have been making sense of all the applications that can help customers succeed in this new technological reality of actually using the data well.

Media thoughts

It’s hard work maintaining a blog–especially when it’s not your main job. I know. I’ve done this for 13 years.

But the problem for thinkers and companies is–how do you get your information out?

It used to be you could use trade press. But shrinking ad budgets and demand for shorter pieces on the Web (at least that is current thinking in many places) have changed the way companies are relating to traditional publications. If you want to get out your whole message, you need to write it yourself. With the Web and search, you can write it and then try to get links.

I’ve linked to most of Sowell’s posts. Obviously not enough of you have clicked and gone to the site. On the other hand, I think there are inflated ideas of the amount of readers. A typical magazine Website in our industry may get upwards of 75,000 views a month. Or a couple may approach 100,000. Certainly not the millions that get publicized in the general technology press.

But if you drill down, a typical article may only get a few hundred views.

The way my site is constructed, when you visit you see several posts. I’m not really selling “eyeballs”. But depending upon the tool you consult, there are several thousand who at least see the headline if you don’t actually read it all. Since my site has few distractions–just a couple of ads and a few other pieces of information–the writing is emphasized.

So, I don’t know Sowell’s traffic (he’s on Blogspot, not the best platform) and I don’t know Schneider’s expectations. But the traffic was not sufficient.

The other company blogs I follow are informative, but they have changed over time to less blog and more PR-type writing. This one was different. I’ll miss the weekly read.

Unleashing The Power of the Industrial Plant Operator

Unleashing The Power of the Industrial Plant Operator

Plant operators have been isolated in remote control rooms for decades. They tend to lose intimate knowledge of their processes as they monitor computer screens in these isolated rooms. The sounds and smells are gone. Everything is theoretical.

This system has worked. But, is it the best, most efficient, most effective use of human intelligence?

Not likely. Technologies and work processes are joining to allow plant managers to change all this.

Tim Sowell, VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric, recently shared some more of his prescient thoughts on this issue–spurred as usual by conversations with customers.

He asks, “What is the reason why users have been locked to the desk/ control room, why has this transition not happened successfully before? It is simple, the requirement to be monitoring the plant. A traditional control room is the central place alarms, notifications were traditionally piped.”

Diving into what it takes to change, Sowell goes on to say, “The user needs to empowered with situational plant awareness, freed from monitoring, shifting to the experience of exception based notification. As the user roams the plant, the user is still responsible, and aware, and able to make decisions across the plant he is responsible for even if he not in view of that a particular piece of equipment. Driving the requirement for the mobile device the user carries to allow notification, drill thru access to information and ability to collaborate so the dependency to sit in the control room has lifted.”

Two streams join to form a river. Sowell continues, “The second key part of the transformation/ enablement of an edge worker is that their work, tasks and associated materials can transfer with them. As the world moves to planned work, a user may start work task on a PC in the control room, but now move out to execute close action. As the user goes through the different steps, the associated material and actions are at his finders tips. The operational work can be generated , assigned and re directed from all terminal.s and devices.”

The first generation of this thinking formed around the rapid development of mobile devices. Before plant managers and engineers could come to grips with one technology, the next popped up. Instead of careful and prolonged development by industrial technology providers, these devices came directly from consumers. Operators and maintenance techs and engineers brought them from home. Smart phones–the power of a computer tucked into their pockets.

Sowell acknowledges it takes more than a handheld computer. “It requires the transformation to task based integrated operational environment where the ‘edge worker’ is free to move.”

The information must free them to navigate with freedom, no matter the format, no matter where they start an activity, and have access to everything.

Unleashing The Power of the Industrial Plant Operator

Industry 4.0 Provides A Framework For Agile Manufacturing

Industry 4.0 provokes much discussion with little understanding. It began as a German government initiative ostensibly to support the German machine building industry. The idea was picked up in a variety of forms by other governments.

Exploring Industry 4.0 leads me to Tim Sowell’s latest blog post. Tim is a Schneider Electric Fellow and VP of System Strategy at Schneider Electric in the Common Architecture team in R&D. He is also the last remaining (that I can find) true blogger in the space. The company blogs have pivoted from blog format offering information and opinion to more of a press release format—where they use the Webpage to get out a company message directly to readers rather than going through the unreliable filter of the trade press. Sowell offers thoughtful discourse on important topics of the day.

If I thought I could meet with Tim and Stan DeVries at the upcoming Wonderware user conference, I’d make plans to get down there. As it is, the trip would lead to about five weeks of travel in a row. That is more expense and time away from home than a one-person entrepreneur can afford.

Sowell lists this set of viewpoints which are discussed in the white paper:
  • Industry 4.0 is about the transformation from controlling focusing on process to “controlling the product/ order” and the “product/ order being self aware”.
  • Industry 4.0 is about operations transformation, not about technology.
  • Industry 4.0 provides a practical strategic framework for “lean” and “agile” industrial operations.
  • Industry 4.0 addresses the needs of discrete and batch manufacturing, but it needs some adaptation for the heavy process and infrastructure industries.

He adds, “Cloud computing and IT/OT convergence are often linked to implementing Industry 4.0, but these need some adaptation to address “trustworthiness” of the architectures.  One emerging topic is Fog computing.”

He argues that automation and operation management technologies are more relevant than ever before. Also important are information standards such as “IEC 61850/ISO9506, ISA-95/ISO62264, PRODML etc.”

You need to go back and read his entire paper. He discusses benefits of adopting this way of thinking about manufacturing (discrete and process). He looks at use cases. And the foundation of Industry 4.0—it requires better information, not just more data.

Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

If you noticed I was missing in action for several days, I took a little vacation and still had to finish a big project last week. Both missions accomplished. Finished the project and got in some quality relaxing.

It also gave me time to ruminate on Tim Sowell’s latest blog post about industrial operations. He’s been thinking a lot about the people who use the technology lately. I think rightly so. Technology only takes us so far (sorry technofuturists).

Several years ago, I ran across a theory of organization called “Holacracy.”  The name derives from an ancient Greek word for a “whole thing”—Holon—and was then taken a new way by Arthur C. Clark. The theory has roots with Lean (which I admire) and Agile (programming) which I know only slightly.

When I studied Holacracy (www.holacracy.org), the theory sounded interesting and leading edge. Yet, the write up on the website seemed too over the top and limitless. It was as if it solved world hunger, world peace, and personal satisfaction.

Perhaps my impression was deepened by reading about how Tony Hsieh implemented (or rather dumped it on people) the structure (or in his case non-structure). Hsieh, you may recall, garnered great publicity for the unique way he ran Zappos. However, his leadership has declined considerably over the past few years. His Downtown Las Vegas project is in shambles and the way he instituted holacracy at Zappos led to chaos and exodus of good people.

Reconsidering Holacracy

Sowell forced me to take a deeper look at the philosophy. Taken in the context of its “parents” Lean and Agile, it makes a lot of sense. But it can’t be just dumped on a company. It requires a culture of trust before it is implemented. As in all team-oriented approaches, there is a danger of lack of diversity as teams choose their members and they all begin to resemble one another.


Holacracy a New Way of Work can it Apply in Industrial Operational Space

Sowell has been thinking about operations performance, not just technology but how it is used and how people’s roles can be transformed. He says, “While agile is applied in the software work, what we seeing in industrial operations, is not a transformation in technology (yes it is being enable by technology) but it really is a transformation in the way companies plan, execute, work.”

And so, looking at a more encompassing picture, he discusses, “Holacracy and Agile are systems that transform the way in which work is planned, and executed, with constant empowerment of people to change and evolve the system.”

Empowering people to grow and excel becomes a crucial component of managing an organization as the newer generations of workers enter the field. People a little older than I, as well as many of my peers, were content with filling a job. Work, go home, live for the weekend. But even many of us wanted more fulfillment for the hours we put in at work. Younger people increasingly wish to feel they are contributing.

Further, implementing these systems that are designed to empower people is non-trivial. Sowell says, “It is important to note both systems are aligned and they are a framework, they require discipline and execution within the framework to enable the agility. Too often in manufacturing and the industrial space people put technology and systems in as “silver bullets” and expect them to solve everything.”

I felt in reading the Holacracy website that its authors expected the philosophy to solve everything. Whether or not they do, taking Sowell’s ideas about placing within a framework is a giant conceptual leap forward toward effective implementation.

Where Do You Get Information?

Technology And The New World of Work

Tim Sowell’s thinking over the past few months has resonated with me. He’s looking at the blend of technology and humans that will build the plant of the future.

Some years ago when I was laying out the initial editorial stance of Automation World, I was attacked by Lean practitioners (consultants). They said there was little use for automation. It just replaced people and made plants less intelligent and flexible.

My reply was that they missed the point. Some things needed to be automated—maybe for safety reasons or for repeatable quality. Some things would always require people (no matter what some dystopians are trying to sell us today). The smart managers and engineers architect blended manufacturing using the best of both automation and people.

I still believe that.

Sowell’s latest blog post, New World of Work will be center to Factory of the Future, takes a look at a similar idea. Much deeper than my musings, of course, his thesis needs to be digested and considered when you are out architecting your next manufacturing or production line.

He talked of a discussion with some colleagues discussing the future from a variety of views. “Sure enough we ended up aligned on the core that the ‘factory of the future’ will be around what two companies labeled ‘New World of work’. I have mentioned this many times in this blog around ‘smart operational work’.”

We were able group companies who looked at the future thru “new technologies” and how they could apply them, (I seem to visited a number of this type in the last month) vs those companies that we believe will be the leaders with the successful approach of “how they must operation, work” in the new world.

Sowell New World of Work

They defined some characteristics of the new world:

  • Brand loyalty at customer reducing, so “Brand Promise” is key
  • Agility to satisfy is key
  • Shrinking mid tier market as the larger companies continue to consolidate to address the supply of new products and service markets. (especially in consumer products).
  • Dynamic workforce where workers rotate locations/ roles, experience in a role will be less than 2 years.
  • Supply chains with limited inventory requires transparent/ agile manufacturing across the sites.
  • “Constant Change” in assets, process, people, products is the natural state in the 2020.

Then they defined some fundamentals of the “new world of work.”

  • New ways of working with dynamic workers that share, collaborate and are connected but assume experience from the system, they trust the system
  • New Processes around agility, new product  introduction that leverage the skills and approach of the “digital Native” collaborative worker, combined with new technologies to enable new processes and operational awareness. The ability to see situations early, continue to learn, and act fast to changing conditions is key.
  • New technologies provide the opportunity to deliver these new ways of working, with new processes. The likes of leveraging the data, through “big data” to use the past to determine the future in a natural manner. The industrial internet of things (industry 4.0) will enable smart devices providing new levels of embedded autonomy in machines and processes, shifting workers to “exception based” management, but with greater responsibility.

Think about the ease of younger people who move between physical and digital seamlessly. There is no hesitation to communicate and collaborate. If they don’t know something they will search for an answer. As we learn to blend technology and people seamlessly, we’ll see this new world of work evolve.

Sowell concludes, “The natural state of the new world is one of ‘change’ and the systems and culture must be able to ‘master’ naturally.”

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