Sometimes I think Henry Ford should have been shot, but that’s not politically correct, so maybe, at the very least, he should have been run out of town. But then I realize that it’s not his fault that we have a plethora of business experts who are not as imaginative or forward thinking as he was.
Mr. Ford is credited with introducing the assembly line model of production at his automobile assembly plants. This model, which is based on segmenting activities and wringing out as much non-income producing time from them as possible, has its benefits. Implemented properly and appropriately, this model (along with its close cousin automation), cuts waste, reduces inefficiency, and increases throughput and productivity.
My problem with the assembly line and automation business models is that too many executives indiscriminately apply these approaches to any process, as though they are “one-size-suits-all” approaches. There are aspects of business that should not be force fed into assembly line or automation processes.
For example, look at the health care industry. It used to be a service, now it’s an “industry” that needs to be producing income as much as possible. Imposing assembly line and automation type processes to drive out inefficiencies does not seem to have improved service. If anything, I think it has made service worse.
Have you tried calling into a company lately and found yourself in an endless loop of “press one for …, press two for …, and so on? Services, where people must interact with other people are not good candidates for assembly line and automation methodologies.
Another business aspect that is not a candidate for automation is creativity, such as that required in the design of products and systems. I’m not talking about the automation of repetitive steps engineers go through with design programs when creating a product. There are some truly wonderful developments coming in CAD programs that will give engineers more time to create because they automate some of the details needed in drawings.
I’m talking about business people who expect their staff to create on demand. I’m talking about business people who expect you to take a service and behave like anautomaton rather than take the time to tailor your skills to the individual needs of customers. Creativity does not come on demand. Creativity needs to be coaxed, invited, and made welcome. Service is not a one size fits all technique. There are some business functions that are not commodities for mass production.
Not all non-income producing time is money thrown out the window. You probably won’t find many executives who will admit this but spending time in nonproductive actions is absolutely necessary to some activities, like design.
Diagnosis is another area where time plays a vital role. Few people, including engineers, can come up with instant answers. Yet some businessmen often operate as if the taking of any “extra” time in any process is a personal affront to their revenue stream.
Yet, some will argue, it’s the only model we have for obtaining the improvements in productivity that have built our current economic system. That just shows me that business experts lack foresight and ingenuity. There ought to be another business model that improves creativity and service without converting people into automatons. Any ideas?
:: Design World ::
Filed Under: Automotive, Factory automation