Automation Professionals' Business Role

  • September 21, 2015
  • Feature

Bill Lydon’s Automation Perspective

By Bill Lydon, Editor

The latest technologies are expanding automation options at an incredibly fast rate. Significant changes within manufacturing companies will be driven by technology. Automation professionals need to take the lead in guiding management to adopt new technology or there will be turmoil. Making the correct investment and implementation decisions will yield profitable results and making the wrong ones will be costly.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, cloud computing, big data, analytics, and other new technologies has spawned business consultants who position themselves as automation gurus. Those “gurus” will approach top manufacturing company managers and sell them advice and guide them to make investments in new technology.

I have seen material published by major business consulting firms claiming the next revolution is coming with exponential technologies. The material states that these firms can be the gurus to guide top manufacturing management for a fee. The key sales tactic seems to be FUD (Fear Uncertainly and Doubt). They use predictions that manufacturers who adopt these new technologies will make billions of dollars. Those that don’t invest now will be buried by competitors. This certainly can put fear into top management at a manufacturing company. Just because these are hot topics does not mean that logic and experience in evaluating the application of new technology should go out the window. Automation professionals need to be management’s guide to sort out the “snake oil” and reality.

Over the years when there has been an environment of technological changes, it has attracted hordes of consultants claiming to know more about how to improve your company than those to actually understand the particulars of your manufacturing environment. A great deal of money has been wasted and companies have gone in the wrong direction by blindly investing based on narrowly-focused, expensive advice.

The challenge for management and automation professionals is addressing today’s problems while also evaluating new methods and technology to be more competitive and profitable. The high level goals are clear - efficiently convert the company’s investment to profits respecting people and the environment. Understanding and applying automation technology is an important element to achieve the goals. The application of technology to improve manufacturing is important and timely since industrial automation systems have not advanced at the rate of other business systems.

I believe automation professionals need to keep informed about new technologies and provide top management with ideas and action plans. Automation should be an integral part of business analysis and planning. You might consider asking management to fund small pilot projects so you can try promising technology rather than going for large, high-risk projects.

The high level goal is to improve manufacturing processes in a number of dimensions, including efficiency, responsiveness, and the ability to meet individual customer needs in a timely manner.

Let’s avoid the nightmare of hordes of business analysts and data scientists from large consulting firms descending on your company. In the end, they will dictate new automation technology and leave you holding the bag of things that don’t work!

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