Manufacturing automation—a vital competitive weapon
By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor
Regardless of your industry, automation is being used throughout the world to be more competitive and transform industry. These are exciting times for automation professionals, who can be vital contributors to the success and future of their companies. The influx of technology creates challenges, and automation professionals are subject-matter experts who have an important role informing and guiding company management to make the best automation investments.
Understanding what new technology and solutions are available and those appropriate to apply in your company to improve efficiency and quality-and simultaneously lower production costs-is an important responsibility. Sorting out the new technologies and solutions that can be applied effectively in your operations takes effort. With the influx of new technology and rapid change, it is wise to look beyond the offerings of your existing vendors to learn about new technology and solutions. With the swift adoption of new technology for manufacturing in parts of the world not tethered by existing systems, it is important to learn about a range of new options.
Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, analytics, artificial intelligence, and other developments are leading the top management of many companies to look for new solutions. Management is being bombarded with information from business consulting firms, information technology suppliers, and existing and new automation vendors advocating for the application of new technologies throughout the business to remain competitive and profitable. This frenzy can result in poorly informed automation investments with a poor return on investment. Worse, over time it can make the company less competitive than others using superior automation solutions that may be nontraditional.
"I have been saying for many years that we are using the word 'guru' only because 'charlatan' is too long to fit into a headline."—Peter Drucker, American management consultant
System integrators, consultants, and vendors can be valuable resources, but they do not have the working knowledge of your company's production. The fact of the matter is automation professionals within a company understand the company's production dynamics better than any automation resource outside the company.
An important task for automation professionals is to earn the respect of management by informing and educating them to make proper automation investment decisions. This requires concise communications without burying management in technical details. It takes concerted thought and effort to convey the benefits, functional description, and investment reasoning.
The challenge for the automation professional is to understand new technologies and how they can be productively applied to production. In times of major change, it takes effort to learn and look beyond traditional solutions. Poor decisions are amplified over time, since most company investment life cycles are long. ISA information sources, including InTech magazine, InTech Plus, Automation.com, and ISA symposiums, can be used to learn. I also advocate attending major nonvendor-sponsored trade shows to learn about new solutions, products, and methods.
"The basic economic resource-the means of production-is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge."—Drucker
Look beyond existing solutions to learn what is possible and analyze what is new to improve production.