Smart Manufacturing requires a new type of Culture

Updated: Mar 30

Do you remember the 6 Million Dollar Man?


For those that do not, the 6 Million Dollar man was an American TV series that ran (in the US) from March 1973 through to March 1978 over five series and 99 episodes (plus six TV movies) and was shown in over 70 countries.

As the titles rolled, viewer saw a footage of a NASA flight test crash in which former astronaut, USAF Colonel Steve Austin, was badly injured. Austin is rushed to hospital for treatment, but all seems hopeless. That is, until the head of a top-secret U.S. special intelligence organisation, authorises Doctor Rudy Wells to rebuild Austin’s body using state-of-the-art bionic parts.


Next the viewers heard …….


“Steve Austin, astronaut: a man barely alive Gentlemen we can rebuild him We have the technology We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man Steve Austin will be that man Better than he was before Better, Stronger, Faster”


In incredible story, was it far-fetched? At the time in the 1970’s it appeared so. But in reality, it was glimpse in to the future.


Just as astronaut Steve Austin was at first seen as downgraded and unable to function due to his injuries, much has been made of the impact of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) on manufacturing. This leads to fears that many roles will be made somehow obsolete.

But people that are worried about being replaced by automation need to reassured that that while tasks may be automated, there will always be jobs in the in different functions That’s where the businesses understanding that this is where the equivalent of Steve Austin’s bionic upgrade comes in. Organisations need to invest in their only appreciating asset, their people. Programme’s need to be put I place to invest in upskilling, ongoing training and education.


Time needs to be taken to explain and reassure people that rather than seeing technology as a threat or replacement, the workforce needs to see it as a strategic enhancement.

Technology is a way of making an organisation stronger, more efficient nd faster than before. It should not be viewed as a way of simply a way of reducing staff levels.

People need to understand that in the majority of cases, many of the monotonous roles would be replaced with more interesting and value-added roles.

New core competencies will need to be both taught and adopted by organisations. Just like Steve Austin, people will need to learn to embrace the new challenges that they are facing – in other words, they will require to become the “Six Million Dollar Men and Women” of their professions.


So how do organisations make this change?

Well in the first place, organisations need to understand Smart manufacturing technology generates and uses a lot of data. The whole concept is that processes will use data to both control themselves and provide data for decisions to be made in parallel externally to the process. This in turn means that organisations can no longer operate in a reactive manner, using the ‘gut feel’ of operators. Instead, they will need to have the ability to work with data that the process provides in real time. They have to become more action orientated in order to take full advantage of the opportunities Smart Manufacturing brings.


Here are a few of the steps that are required.


Create a roadmap.

It is essential to create a roadmap so that the organisation organization can identify the steps and tactics essential for the change. This will also help to maintain ongoing engagement across the organisation through leadership, sequencing initiatives and managing the potential disruption. It also helps to ensure that budgets are not underestimated and the costs associated with activities such as process reengineering or integration are understood and managed.


Prepare to integrate continuous innovation with continuous improvement.

All organisations at time to time suffer with initiative overload. So, during the move to smart technologies, synchronizing initiatives will be needed to enhance core operations of today’s processes with future innovation and process capabilities. This helps to manage change and avoid resource constraints.


More performance management measurement from efficiency to speed.

Improving operational excellence is the main goal and not the endpoint for smart manufacturing. Focusing on speed will improve order cycle times, quality levels and customer service levels while identifying opportunities for further improvements.

Execute gradually.

Running Pilots and building test areas is not too disruptive in general terms. But the deployment of the full roll out can be extremely disruptive. Each facility has a different blend of equipment, systems, processes and very importantly, workforce capabilities. Even when scoped in advance, it may be more challenging than expected to manage the challenges of reengineering processes and avoiding hidden integration costs. So, a planned gradual execution will give the organisation ongoing stability and a huge opportunity to learn about not just the technology, but about itself.


Be realistic about your expectations at each stage.

Managed expectations will allow for the organisations people to have confidence in the process. Knowing what benefits to emphasize and de-emphasize at different stages is critical. Manage the fear of change that surround new technologies. Do not try to squeeze too early. The limited benefits in some early stages can be the most beneficial later if done well.


So in summary. Organisations can embrace the changes and challenges that Smart manufacturing will bring.

As those titles rolled in the 70’s, who would have thought that they would have so much relevance now are smart technologies are becoming a reality


“Steve Austin, astronaut: a man barely alive Gentlemen we can rebuild him We have the technology We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man Steve Austin will be that man Better than he was before Better, Stronger, Faster”

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