• By Bill Lydon
  • InTech

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Contributing Editor

Futurist Nicholas J. Webb (www.nickwebb.com) spoke at the 2019 Manufacturing in America conference in Detroit in March and discussed a number of thought-provoking trends. On the topic of disruption, he made a statement that to me seemed fundamental, "If disruption is the problem, innovation is the solution."

He suggested when change is occurring, people may have a tendency to deny, hide, or be victimized by disruption. Alternatively, people can realize change is happening, embrace it, and benefit from new opportunities.

Another key point in his presentation noted that "legacy" is very comfortable and creates a resistance to change. My observation is that holding on to legacy practices and systems too long can hold back an organization from progress, and in manufacturing creates an environment for competitors to overtake your business. Once it becomes obvious that competitors are "beating" your company with sales and profits declining, the time, effort, and resources to become competitive are expensive. At this point you are chasing rather than leading in your industry.


Thinking about innovation, the famous painter Pablo Picasso said, "Every act of creation is first an act of destruction." Creating something new usually requires letting go of something old-which can be very difficult. Transitions are painful, because they destroy the status quo, pushing us beyond our comfort zones.

It is important to remember that we often do not see disruptive innovation coming. Disruption takes us by surprise if we are not the ones disrupting. This makes it important to explore new ideas and technologies that can lead to innovative disruption within your manufacturing operations.

The task for automation professionals is to analyze the confusing multidimensional chaos of new technologies, expectations, requirements, and processes to develop new superior solutions. Innovations may be internally complex but simplify life for users, reducing complexity and increasing efficiency.


Automation professionals shine at using their experience, know-how, and creativity to solve problems to improve manufacturing and production efficiencies and quality by designing applications. Working within the limitations of existing legacy systems in a plant inherently limits the ability to create applications to improve operations, productivity, and profits. Newer automation systems with superior technology give automation professionals the tools to achieve greater results. In the environment of changing technology, it is important to look beyond and understand the options for improving productivity and competitiveness that may take new investments. Setting goals beyond today's status quo and then finding ways to achieve those goals will yield new results.

It's hard to achieve the goal of disruptive innovation if you aren't certain what you are trying to accomplish.

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About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on Automation.com