Is new technology the best investment for your next dollar?
By Mark Edmondson, LEAN Affiliates
I made a day trip to the Assembly Technology Expo in Chicago last week. What an adventure. After all, here's an event dedicated to the latest automated innovations for manufacturing: Over 600 leading suppliers were there, from AGI Corporation (tooling and automated handling for PCB assembly) to Zierick Manufacturing (interconnection devices). I'm always fascinated with the latest technology for manufacturing, and it was fun to put my business card in all of those fish bowls and hope that I won something.
But as I looked over the Technology Pavilion and saw all of that equipment from all of those large companies, I couldn't help but wonder…
What if American industry spent just a fraction less on material handling equipment, and just a fraction more on improving their process flow?
What if American industry spent just a fraction less on “Machine Vision Systems” (it looked really cool), and just a fraction more on teaching their people with how to see waste?
What if American industry spent just a fraction less on automated storage and retrieval systems, and just a fraction more on creating level pull and reducing inventories?
I like cool new technology just as much as the next engineer, but I sense that most companies could make much more progress by shelving their next automation project and spending that next dollar on their processes, management systems, and developing people.
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Touche’, touche’….the latest and greatest toy, magic pill, etc. has always fascinated me as well. As a fellow engineer the cool gadgets, but as I have grown older & understand more about the Toyota Production System (a.k.a. Lean) I continually question these ‘hi-tech’ material handling or MRP/ERP systems. Do they add value or help add value to managing a process or are they false hopes for people who do not want to think?
I was at the Assembly Expo as well, giving a speech on the pitfalls and barriers to lean from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. I set the stage for the topic while three companies presented how they overcame their barriers: Schneider Electric, ZF Industries and Allen Edmonds.
The problem you discuss, Mark, is very common. People see a new, sexy technology and want to put it to use. We imagine how much better our world will be with that technology in place. The problem is not the technology, the problem is how people make the decision. The common approach is to find the solution (technology) and then look for the problem. That solutions is almost always more than is needed, or doesn’t fit the bill at all. The right approach – start with the problem. What are we trying to solve? Then determine the ideal solution. Then, and ONLY then, if technology helps you close the gap from your current to your ideal state, you can go ahead and make the purchase.
Don’t ignore technology, just use it in an appropriate way.