January/February 2010

Be a source of your company's success

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Automation professionals are worth their weight in gold to employers when they apply knowledge and creativity to improving production. Given the current global economic conditions, most companies are dealing with budget constraints, and this situation calls for more creativity and ingenuity. The challenge is to do more with less.

Some ideas I have learned from years of experience, applying Value Engineering, and being trained at the Creative Education Foundation (www.creativeeducationfoundation.org), may be of value.

The power of an idea is underrated, and most people do not spend enough time thinking. Look at what is going on in your production processes, identify what is slowing production, and then come up with a solution. It helps to brainstorm with other people involved, including operators and maintenance people.

Questions lead to creativity, and answers lead to innovations. Make lists of areas needing improvement, and then ask this powerful question for each area: In what ways might we (the challenge) … ?

Make a long list of ideas without worrying about cost or practicality. Include ideas that are silly or impossible because in many cases these ideas open your mind to new practical solutions.

A big obstacle to new ideas is making assumptions such as, "it's never been done that way before," and other negative responses. These thoughts will stop you dead. Here are some things that were not thought possible in the past:

  • The first successful cast-iron plow invented in the U.S. in 1797 was rejected by New Jersey farmers under the theory that cast iron poisoned the land and stimulated growth of weeds.
  • Men insisted that iron ships would not float, that they would damage more easily than wooden ships when grounding, that it would be difficult to preserve the iron bottoms from rust, and that iron would deflect the compass.

These are some techniques to employ when looking for new ideas:

Rearrange: Making the new by rearranging the old can many times create a better result.

Substitute: What can I substitute to make an improvement? What if I swap this for that and see what happens?

Combine: What materials, features, processes, people, products, or components can I combine? Where can I build synergy?

Adapt: What part of the process could I change? And in exchange for what? What if I were to change the characteristics of a component?

Modify: What happens if I minimize or exaggerate a feature or component? What will happen if I modify the process in some way?

Eliminate: Think of what might happen if you eliminated various parts of the process; this often leads to considering different approaches. What would happen if I removed a component or part of it? How else would I achieve the solution without the normal way of doing it?

Wish: Fantasize how this process could be done if some rules were suspended such as budget, physics, and gravity.

Ideal: What would my ideal solution look like?

It takes courage to explore and create new ideas, but this is how progress is made. Generating many ideas, including impractical, silly, and impossible ones, will open a door to better ideas.

A major function of InTech is to enhance the automation profession by communicating and explaining ideas, technology, solutions, and showcasing successes. This information provides everyone in the automation community more ideas to innovate.

As you become a source of your company's success, please share your ideas so we can communicate them to others.

Talk to me at blydon@isa.org.