DOM nation: Collaborators are gaining common ground

The same high technologies that require new skills and DOM collaboration to make them work effectively are helping people to work together and to deal with lost and missing expertise, says Editor in Chief Paul Studebaker in his latest column.

By Paul Studebaker

Sometimes it seems to me that we haven’t progressed all that far from Polynesian tribes. We respect experience and wisdom up to a point, but if one of us gets too old to hunt, fish or fight, we cast them out. Or make them Chief.

At the recent ARC Forum in Boston, chiefs gathered and passed the talking stick, speaking of how the world of manufacturing is changing. The air was filled with the usual concerns about global competition and the need to reduce costs, be more agile and streamline supply chains, and more than a little bit about the problems finding skilled workers.

Manufacturing employment is falling mainly because it takes fewer people to run highly automated facilities, but those people must have uncommon skills, and are in high demand both inside and outside our industries.

The chiefs spoke long and lovingly about the need for collaboration among traditionally disparate people and functions. Wonderful things can happen when design (engineering), operations and maintenance (DOM) personnel share information, technology, people, processes and strategy (The owner/operator is always the team leader “due to the fact that he suffers most and longest,” says Sid Snitkin, ARC vice president). And if they don’t, the life of their plant is likely to be Hobbesian: nasty, brutish and short.

“Embrace collaborative design and manufacture,” says Andy Chatha, president, ARC. “Flatten your organization.” But saying we all ought to collaborate and making it so are two different things. Sure, we understand the silos must be eliminated, the walls must come down, but who’s got the wrecking ball?
It appears to be IT.

Plenty of evidence from the Forum and in this issue of Plant Services says the situation and the solution are parts of the same thing. The same high technologies that require new skills and DOM collaboration to make them work effectively are helping people to work together and to deal with lost and missing expertise. A DOM infrastructure can capture information and reduce labor, training and knowledge requirements. It can give service providers the insight needed to efficiently fill in part-time requirements and missing on-site expertise.

“Create a common content and data library,” says Chatha. Much easier said than done, but several presenters showed that it’s becoming doable thanks to standards and to platforms from ERP, automation and MES software suppliers that offer much easier integration of existing maintenance, operations, engineering and business databases and applications.

In collaborating plants, “The manufacturing guys are teaching the IT guys about mission-critical and manufacturing,” says Kevin Roach, vice president, Rockwell Software in an exclusive interview with Plant Services, “and the IT guys are teaching the manufacturing guys about blueprinting and standardization and global rollouts.”

For example, you’d think Honda’s manufacturing facilities in Alabama would be new and advanced enough to be easy, but years of letting engineering extract operations information led to a hodgepodge of PC servers on the plant floor feeding non-standardized data through three layers in its way to the new business system. Jay Weldon, senior manager, information systems for Honda in Alabama gave an IT perspective on how Honda is building DOM in its now-brown-field plants.

They started by understanding, documenting and reverse-engineering the high-priority existing systems.

Then they developed and implemented a standardization strategy to “simplify and harmonize” data transfer from controllers to the Honda global database. Now they’re working on bringing in additional applications and leveraging the information to improve asset management.

Along the way, they’re eliminating headaches from trying to maintain far too many white-box PC servers on the plant floor, lack of scalability and multiple interfaces and databases. One important tactic: Don’t leave a system unexamined just because it seems to be working at the moment. “If it’s not broke, break it,” says Weldon.

The key is to understand how IT can benefit you and your companies, “not us versus them, but what’s in the company’s best interests,” Roach says. “If you find yourself in a conflict, try promoting yourself in your mind. Imagine you are higher in your organization – one, two, three times – until you get a perspective where you can see the silliness of the behavior. Would you condone it? If you take that perspective, you can behave differently at the level you’re at, and reach the right solution."

Paul Studebaker
Editor in Chief

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