Calling for integrated education

Among the highlights of The Automation Conference held May 19-20 in Chicago were two keynote presentations that addressed the transformation now underway within industry and manufacturing as we adopt and deploy internet-thinking and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Both speakers emphasized that the hard part of achieving business-transforming results is really the soft part: the issues of leadership, collaboration, change management, and action-orientation. On the Edge blogger Keith Campbell, a regular contributor to Packaging World and to this newsletter, had this reaction about the TAC presentations.

Jim Wentzel, Director of Global Reliability at General Mills and Chairman of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, described GM's 22-year journey from interconnected devices on the shop floor toward smart manufacturing, resulting in collective wisdom that enables people to make meaningful decisions at the speed of manufacturing. The fact that General Mills currently collects 7 billion items of manufacturing data per day demonstrates that deploying technology to interconnect processes is not the challenge. The challenges are those of organizational capability: bringing leadership, process discipline, collaboration, and a bias toward action.

Dr. Richard Mark Soley, Executive Director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, asserted that the industrial internet is leading the next global economic revolution, yet many sectors, including manufacturing, have yet to be affected. The Industrial Internet Consortium is about ensuring that the IIoT or Industrie 4.0 or Cyber-physical Systems bring about transformational business results. These changes will result in significant social disruption, eliminating jobs and replacing them with different jobs requiring different skills. Dr. Soley made reference to a 1962 book by Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that I studied in 1971. I am motivated to take it off my library shelf and read it again in the context of the IIoT.

Social disruption in manufacturing does not come about naturally. It will require strong leadership and a culture of collaboration for existing manufacturers to make the transition. Note that I did not say 'for manufacturing to make the transition'. I believe that a new manufacturing infrastructure is likely to appear that is based upon internet-thinking, just as a new transportation infrastructure has arisen through Uber to challenge the taxi model that exists across the world. This new manufacturing infrastructure will challenge our existing manufacturers, who may or may not be able to survive the transformation.

Regardless of how manufacturing becomes transformed, the need for multi-skilled workers will continue to evolve and employee engagement will be crucial if the workforce is to be led into this new internet-based model. PMMI's Manufacturing Workforce Development Playbook and the Workforce Engagement book are both valuable resources for manufacturing managers. Many educational programs and industry initiatives are aimed at creating multi-skilled mechatronics technicians to replace the single-trade focus of electrician, mechanic, instrument technician, and programmer. This work must certainly continue. But the students who tend to gravitate toward this blended skill model tend to be a bit nerdy. These technical skills need to be balanced by an appropriate dose of soft skills: interpersonal relationships, dynamics of leadership, change management, collaboration, etc. On top of that, engineers and technicians will need to have 'business sense' and be able to speak the language of finance. Are our educational institutions up to the task of turning out graduates with solid foundations in multiple-engineering technologies, interpersonal skills, and business acumen, too? I think they are not. I hope that I am proved wrong.

Manufacturing workers who will be the most successful will be those who can bridge the gaps between technology, finance, and human resources as the internet transforms the world as we know it.

The Automation Conference is produced by PMMI Media Group’s Automation World and Packaging World magazines. For more information, visit www.theautomationconference.com.

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