An unchecked rise in automation could equal a decrease in quality of life.

They say that the more things change the more they stay the same. Sometimes, perhaps, but not all the time – especially when people are involved.

For ages, people have strived for a good lifestyle. In ancient times, simply surviving – literally – might have been the definition of a good lifestyle. Over time, the definition has pivoted, influenced by the times in which people were living. For over a hundred years, people took both the short- and long-term view when defining their lifestyle. Short term, the idea was to have a good job, one that paid as well as possible, provided upward potential for both compensation and responsibility while also offering a level of stability, so one did not have to worry every day, week or month "if" they would have that job.

Most in our industry entered it because they saw a potential for growth – personal growth, as well as growth for the organization with which they were working. Most also started in an entry-level position and through hard work, observation and learning, could either become an expert in the area or on the equipment/process they operate, or be promoted to managing process, people or both. And while living in this short-term lifestyle called a career, people also built a life that in the long term provided a comfortable and happy environment for themselves and their family. Some call this the American dream, but I view it as a global vision, one shared by citizens around the world.

Read more: Don't Forget the People

Data for the sake of data can do more harm than good.

Data can be very useful, in moderation! Over what seems like a very long career I have seen data used and have used data for a great number of purposes. But “data,” of course, can mean different things.

Early in my career during the 1970s, data were what I would consider “flat” numbers. If a machine had a counter, if you could measure or quantify a dimension via some type of gauge, that was considered best-in-class “data.” During the 1980s, computers became more powerful and programmers were more adept at identifying information that previously could not be easily obtained. The power of large computing combined with the evolving skills of computer programmers ushered in new, never doable concepts such as logistics to be able to smartly schedule the entire manufacturing process from procurement to shipping.

Late in the 1980s, personal computers had evolved, and user-friendly software programs such as Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, Word, etc., enabled an expanded group of employees to collect information and create far more usable “data.” These users of PCs were often not professional programmers, but the actual shop floor operator or supervisor who needed the data output but also understood the source of all the inputs. In many ways, the late 1980s through 1990s was a period of quantum expansion of data use. Both the user and generator of information could write programs where the information could be input and sliced and diced through pivot tables to generate far more usable “data.” Of course, this worked only as well as the quality of both the inputs and formulas utilized.

Read more: Sorting Through the Information Noise

And will capital equipment makers stay put, relocate or – shudder! – exit the business?

In many ways, the past three years have seemed very much like a dream, with life shifting from normal to masked panic and social distancing, to light at the end of the tunnel, to where we mostly appear to be now: back to normal! But while most faces are uncovered, businesses have taken down Plexiglas separating cashier from customer, and retail floors have only a few faded "stand here" decals visible on the floors, not all is truly back to normal.

Geopolitical strains have developed in Asia and an unprovoked war is taking place in Europe. Both series of events – combined with the pandemic – put unprecedented strains on a global supply chain that for decades relied upon political stability and free access to countries around the globe. While the pandemic focused most of us on the here and now, it also caused companies – and countries – to pivot on where and how they source product.

Read more: Will We Demand a New Supply Chain?

Manufacturing costs include more than just material, labor and overhead.

Possibly it's because inflation has ticked up over the past year or so, or possibly it's because despite a long career in manufacturing, and I am still not sure all stakeholders from production, sales, customers, suppliers – and especially accounting – really understand or agree, but I find myself now more than ever trying to identify and come to grips with the "real cost" of what I produce.

I am hardly the first to ponder this question. Truth be told, I spent too many years early in my career performing standards engineering and being responsible for product costing. All that experience, I fear, has left me more a skeptic than an expert on product costing. Too many companies in our industry have ended up foundering, in no small part because of their leadership not understanding the real cost of their product.

Read more: The Real Cost of Production

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