Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Industry Watch Opinion
It’s no longer about information – it’s about knowledge


Oct. 2, 2015 – People fall into one of two categories when it comes to the topic of IT: they have embraced it and are always looking for more ways to get more information from it, or, they are aware of the potential it may have but feel woefully behind and out of date. There’s a third category though, smaller than the first two, but growing steadily. It’s the people that have invested heavily in information systems and have collected mountains of data, but are now wondering what it all means, and if it was worth the effort and cost.

The problem is that it’s not “information” that is valuable, but “knowledge.” There’s a big difference between these two words we often mistakenly interchange. Here are some of the common definitions to illustrate the difference:

Information: the collected facts and data about a specific subject; definite knowledge acquired or supplied about something or somebody.

Knowledge: familiarity or understanding gained through experience or study; all the information, facts, truths, and principles learned throughout time; general awareness or possession of information, facts, ideas, truths, or principles.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to tour a factory where we were doing a small project. I was meeting the president and plant manager to review data that we had collected from a couple of critical automated assembly machines. We had some interesting information to share. After our meeting, I asked to see the rest of the plant, and they were glad to do so. We stopped in front of one of six identical machines and they explained the operation in detail. The operator was clearly straining to hear our discussion, wondering what was so interesting to the three of us. I asked if it was OK if I asked her a few questions, and they said, “Sure.” Here’s a small part of the exchange:

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Me: “When your shift is over, and you feel like you’ve had a really good day — you really hit it out of the park that day — what does that day look like?”

Operator: “A pretty good day is if we get 4,100 or 4,200 pieces done. Our average is about 4,000. If we really hit it out of the park, we’ll have done 4,300 or 4,400.”

Me: “Does your boss know when you’ve had a really good day or hit it out of the park?”

Operator (staring directly at the plant manager and president): “I sure hope so.”

In this case, the information is that they average 4,000 pieces a day, but sometimes can get 4,200, and if everything goes really well, they can get 4,400. The knowledge we gained in that dialogue was that a) the operators have a lot of pride, b) their pride influences their daily performance, and c) it’s important for them to know that their bosses know when they had a good day.

Knowledge is information and experience, and experience comes from people. The systems that are deployed in our factories today are still information systems, but what we really need them to be is knowledge systems. It needs to inform not just some of our people (i.e. managers, maintenance and CI people etc.), it needs to inform all the people (operators, assemblers, everyone). And more than that, it needs to engage people so that their experience matters and is valued, because when it comes right down to it, it’s what they do every day that actually creates the value that results in revenue. It’s not the managers or accountants or CI teams, it’s the folks on the floor.

In manufacturing, IT still follows the old paradigm; we use it to help us manage our businesses, to help design our products, and perhaps as part of the products we build. Outside of the manufacturing environment however, the mandate of IT has expanded to “Create value. Connect people.”

The most significant continuous improvement we can make in our factories today is to start thinking more about knowledge and less about information, and remembering that knowledge comes from our people. Let’s change our information technology into knowledge technology by using it to better to connect our people, and to add value.

This column previously appeared in the September 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.


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