ROI

Peter Bigelow

Communications interfaces rely on handshakes, but software and simplicity no longer go hand-in-hand.

“Plug-and-play” seems a simple, efficient concept, a beautiful merger of elegant design and high technology. What happened to it?

I forget exactly when I first heard the term plug-and-play, but it was sometime back in the late 1980s. As I recall, consumer electronics had something to do with it – perhaps a VCR player that connected to a TV. Or possibly it was tied to early personal computers, where the various accessories could be mixed and matched, so any brand of monitor, printer or keyboard could be added interchangeably to the system. Wherever the phrase came from, the meaning was universal: You could replace one part of a system with a new or different component, and the system would operate without a hitch.

In business the term seemed to morph in two directions. In administrative office environments, the term was associated with updates or upgrades to software. Transitioning spreadsheet software such as Lotus 1-2-3 to, say, Quattro Pro was seamless, thanks to the elegant design of similar operating commands. Just upload the new software onto your computer and begin using it. Meanwhile, on the manufacturing floor, a new piece of capital equipment could be dropped into the process flow and hooked up, and it fit seamlessly with the existing machines. Voila! New replaced old. Simple, easy, painless.

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Read more: Where Does Plug-and-Play Fit into Industry 4.0?

Peter Bigelow

Solving the age-old dilemma between design and manufacturing.

Developing a new product or process – or even aggressively refining them – is a juggle of “wants” and “needs.” As manufacturers in an industry that constantly pushes the envelopes of performance, real estate, and – yes! – cost, our industry is precisely where the rubber meets the road in reconciling needs and wants.

Manufacturing is a curious profession that often relies on older equipment, processes and employee skills to produce cutting-edge “new” products. The catalyst is, of course, people: people who design and people who take those designs and make functioning product. As smart, talented, dedicated and thoughtful as these people may be, however, they often fail to communicate the needs vs. the wants.

Indeed, it can be hard to know what’s on the other side of the hill.

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Read more: When What You Want Isn’t What You Need

Peter Bigelow

Dealing with the emotional toll of the pandemic.

Stagnation is a devastating condition for any business. No enterprise chooses to be stagnant, and rarely does anyone within notice when inertia begins. Still, the effect can launch a downward spiral that can cripple companies, even in the most dynamic industries.

Stagnation has many causes, which can take a long time to do damage. Most common are simple things, such as when a company slows or stops development of new products or capabilities, or when it takes existing customers for granted while not working to develop new ones. Most common is when management stops investing in needed equipment or workers to make the bottom line look better, quarter after quarter. Each of these decisions are made, consciously or not, by management. And while the intentions may have been good, over time they become the root cause of stagnation and can bring a vibrant company to its knees.

Yet stagnation can occur despite management’s best efforts to maintain a focused, engaged and vibrant business. Sometimes external events create an environment that must be dealt with. In the meantime, corporate progress falls by the wayside. Covid-19 is just such an event.

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Read more: Is Covid Stagnating Your Workplace? Here’s What to Do

Peter Bigelow

Now, just how many people can we move off the floor?

This past year was most unusual, distracting and challenging, and many of those distractions and challenges appear they will remain with us well into the first half of the year. As industry begins to focus on post-pandemic planning, however, much has been learned over the past year that can and is being applied to planning for the future.

Possibly the most significant thing learned is technology can – and does – work! A generation of manufacturing and technology leaders knew little of platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, etc. Through baptism by fire, we have become believers in virtual interaction, its effectiveness and value. Equally significant is the realization that for many business functions, including those in manufacturing, remote working – aka working from home – works and offers much more flexibility than the traditional structured workplace.

Manufacturers have by necessity reconfigured shop floors to accommodate social distancing, cleaning protocols, and all that has gone with the Covid pandemic. Adding space between production lines can accommodate social distancing. But while effective, it has proven costly. Splitting shifts is another tactic. Employees may be willing today to change schedules to keep a job; however, it is not ideal in the long term. Meanwhile, in the office environment social distancing is accomplished via interactive technology. Further, many claim the efficiency and flexibility from employees working remotely and communicating virtually has been significantly better than they imagined. The office environment success and flexibility from harnessing virtual communication technology has not gone unnoticed by the manufacturing manager.

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Read more: Revealed: Technology Really Works!

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