Old dogs, new dogs, and knowledge integration
By Bill Lydon
Automation and business systems integration is growing at an accelerated pace, leveraging new digital technologies to improve efficiency and competitive position. Most recently this was described in presentations by manufacturers at the annual ARC conference in Orlando, Fla. The many new technologies, including predictive maintenance, analytics, artificial intelligence, smart sensors, and edge devices, are providing the tools to achieve higher quality, productivity, and profits.
An important ingredient to be successful is leveraging experienced people in the company to appropriately apply these technologies using sound automation systems knowledge and know-how. Creating a cultural environment that embraces the integration of multigenerational employees, including the “young guns” and the experienced professionals, combines their unique knowledge and know-how, and leads to superior results.
Not taking advantage of internal knowledge and know-how can be a big mistake. For example, applying technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can have value, but it needs to be done using industrial and process automation professionals’ knowledge of operations. The importance of using a team approach was brought into focus in a discussion I had with automation engineers at a major pharmaceutical company where “management” brought in an outside consulting firm of data scientists. They collected process information, analyzed it, and subsequently made automation and control changes that were disastrous and cost a great deal of money. The lesson is, technology is a tool that cannot be used in a vacuum without knowledge and know-how of production processes.
Young automation people just out of college or technical schools have learned the “latest and greatest,” but they lack the know-how and activity knowledge gained with years of experience. Know-how and activity knowledge are the practical understanding of how to get something done, as opposed to “know-what” (facts) or “know-why” (science). Know-how is not obvious, explicit knowledge, and it is often difficult to transfer to another person by writing it down or verbalizing it. It is best experienced in the field with an accomplished mentor as a guide.
A few years ago, I interviewed the cofounder of a software company that had a large number of talented new technical people but just could not seem to create effective solutions. He described how this was solved when they paired up “the new dogs with the old dogs,” achieving great results. He described the value of this approach, “the new dogs teach the old dogs new tricks, and the old dogs can teach the new dogs old tricks and lessons learned from failed projects; together they created innovative solutions.”
The most effective digitalization may require collaboration of a number of traditionally siloed groups including the automation and control group, information technology (IT), quality, manufacturing operations, and others. Effective companies are doing this with each part of the organization respecting the unique knowledge and talents of all to collaborate and achieve superior results. This requires people to have an open mind collaborating with each other.
A worthy goal for an organization is to build a culture of openness and collaboration where people respect each other’s talents and are focused on common goals that make manufacturing and production more profitable and competitive.