How AI may revolutionise industrial design

Instead of being passive and logical, computers are becoming intuitive, as Maurice Conti explains in this TED video.  This has major implications for industrial design.

Posted in Chap 10 Processes and technology, Sector: I.T. & ecommerce | Leave a comment

Implications of industrial robots in emerging economies

Most of the blogs and articles about automation and robots reflect on how this will affect fully industrialised countries, with a strong manufacturing base.  But the majority of countries are not like this.   This article on the World Economic Forum website by Lorenzo Fioramonti considers the effect of automation in developing countries.  He proposes that rather than copy the industrialised countries, it is imperative that they adopt a different economic model – the so-called ‘wellbeing economy’.

Posted in Chap 03 Processes and life cycles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Artificial intelligence – how it might impact on business success

A new discussion paper from mckinsey.com – “How artificial intelligence can deliver real value to companies”.  It includes a survey of 3,000 ‘AI aware companies’ across the world.  This suggests that early adopters of this technology have higher margins than their competitors and expect AI to deliver real competitive advantage.  The full paper is 76 pages long and can be downloaded from the link above.  It includes five detailed case studies from the following sectors – retail, utilities, education, manufacturing and healthcare.

Posted in Chap 01 Introduction, Sector: Energy & Utilities, Sector: I.T. & ecommerce, Sector: Manufacturing, Sector: Public Services & Charities, Sector: Retail | Tagged | Leave a comment

The future of retailing? Wheelys 247 is beta testing in Shanghai.

Posted in Chap 10 Processes and technology, Sector: Retail | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The tension between six sigma and innovation

Every now and again you come across something that you wish you’d read and/or blogged about years ago.  So it is with this article by Brian Hindo written in 2007, and to be found on the Bloomberg.com website.  It does what it says on the tin i.e. it explores how the introduction of six sigma into the firm 3M may (or may not) have stifled innovation.  It explains why and how six sigma was introduced into the organisation and the initial beneficial effects it had.  But it goes on to explore how this may have a downside on a key feature of 3M’s success and culture – innovation.

Posted in Chap 09 Quality, Sector: Manufacturing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Operations Insight: Icon Aerospace Technology’s continuous improvement programme

Good example on themanufacturer.com website of how continuous improvement is being applied in the aerospace industry.  Icon Aerospace, with the help of consultants SiG, developed its 4i continuous improvement programme based around ‘improvement, insight, intelligence, and inspiration’.  The impact has been significant with “a 33% improvement in production rates, a 20%-point improvement in yield, and a turnover growth of 29%”.

Posted in Chap 16 Innovation and CI, Sector: Manufacturing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Shared services – where we were in 2015

We blogged a few weeks ago about shared service at BAESystems, so it was interesting to come across this article summarising research into this phenomenon written by Herbert and Oshri (2015), two academics specialising in this field.  They conducted a survey of 150 managers who had direct responsibility for firms’ shared services centres (SSCs).  The key finding was the diversity of such SSCs – not just in terms of the functions that were shared, but also the job titles of the managers that managed them, the aims that they had, and the actual outcomes that were being achieved.

In the sample of companies investigated six main functions had been centralised in some or all of them.  In order of frequency these were finance and accounting, human resources, procurement, I.T., data management and application development & maintenance.  These last two have emerged recently (as an outcome of i4.0) and been clearly separated from the I.T. function.

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Beyond the hype of i4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution

KPMG have produced a 24 page report that seeks to separate the rhetoric from the reality of the so-called fourth industrial revolution.   It “offers a realistic perspective on the current state of i4.0 adoption and readiness across the market…. based on a series of in-depth benchmarking exercises with leading industrial manufacturers around the world”.

Here are some of the headlines:

  • “the real value of i4.0 comes not from the component technologies or capabilities but rather through the integration of automation, data, analytics, manufacturing and products in a way that delivers unique competitive advantages and unlocks new business and operating models”

    “i4.0 capabilities and technologies could be used to cut across traditional industry value chain roles and internal functional lines, simplify processes and improve productivity”.

  • “…with i4.0, relevant data based on the performance outcome being targeted is captured directly through sensors, [then] combined, analyzed and communicated with helpful visualizations to the executive suite in near real time” thereby improving decision-making.
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Catastrophic system failure and its implications

The term ‘catastrophic system failure’ (CSF) originated in the I.T. industry, but it has now come to mean any sudden and total failure from which recovery is extremely difficult or even impossible.  The fire at Greenfell Tower this week is the latest example of such a failure and my deepest sympathies go out to all those affected by this tragedy.

Before deciding to blog about this, I have pondered long and hard about whether to do so.  I have decided to go ahead because firstly the mission of this blog is for people to learn and understand all aspect of operations management and hence I want to make a positive contribution to the current contentious debate about this event.  Second I want to focus on a specific aspect of the fire that may not have been given the same level of media coverage as other aspects – specifically the effect this CSF may have on the firefighters who attended the incident.

Here I must reveal some personal bias.  My older son was a fully trained firefighter and served on a retained basis in a fire and rescue service on the South Coast.  Being interested in operations of all kinds (and in my son) I would discuss with him a variety of things related to how the fire service worked, such as training, rostering, response times, and etc. So I have some insight into their operations, but I do not claim to be an expert in this specific field.

What I do know is that firefighters go through a rigorous training regime and continually practice their procedures and routines for tackling any kind of incident.  This is how they are able to perform their duties in circumstances that members of the public find extraordinary.  They enter burning buildings to fight fires and rescue occupants because they have training centres that create the most severe conditions under which they can operate.  They have learned how fire behaves, how it moves, and why it burns with different levels of intensity.  They do not regard themselves as brave when tackling fires because they have the training, expertise and kit that assures them that they can succeed in completing whatever task faces them.

All of this was put to the test at Greenfell Tower.  The tower block was designed to have a ‘passive’ fire protection system.  This is based around the idea that any fire outbreak should be contained within one flat or apartment.  Doors should be closed to prevent the spread of fire.  Firefighters enter the building and fight the fire from within, using water from high rise mains located on different floors.  Residents should remain in the building and take action to stop smoke from entering their homes.   The emergency staircase is there not to evacuate them, but to allow the firefighters to get to the fire.  And over many years this system has been effective.  This is why some residents were initially told by firefighters to stay in the building.

But Greenfell Tower was different.  The senior fire officer who attended the blaze described it as “strange”, “fast moving” and “unpredictable”.  The fire was not contained within one flat, but moving up the outside of the building so that the whole building was quickly becoming engulfed in fire.  At this point, minutes after arriving at the scene, firefighters were faced with a situation they had not trained for and had never seen before. Thus to enter the Tower, as many firefighters did, took supreme courage and was truly heroic.  It deserves some special recognition.

Clearly there was a catastrophic system failure here and the public enquiry into the fire will identify how this occurred.  Right now another system needs to come into operation with regards to the firefighters – the fire and rescue service counselling system.  In years gone by they were left to cope with the psychological effects of attending tragic events and many suffered from post-traumatic stress.  These days it is routine for firefighters to have a debrief after attending any event, and to receive counselling if needed.  This is going to be especially important for those firefighters who attended Greenfell Tower, for I fear that they will feel that they failed and that had they performed better the number of victims would be lower.  They must be helped to overcome these dark thoughts, because it was the CSF that lead to the death toll, despite their valiant efforts to save residents.

Posted in Chap 13 Projects and crises, Sector: Public Services & Charities | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Digital transformation at work in a variety of industry settings

General Electric (GE) was created in 1892 through the merger of two companies, one of which was founded by Thomas Edison, the inventor of many electrical appliances.  Throughout the twentieth century it was one of world’s largest manufacturers of electrical goods across a wide range of industry sectors.  Today GE also describes itself as “the world’s Digital Industrial Company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive”.  This link takes you to GE Digital’s ‘Imagination at Work’ page, which is devoted to the concept of digital transformation.  If you scroll down, you will come to a menu that gives insight into how this has been applied to a variety of industry sectors, including aviation, healthcare, oil & gas, chemicals, transportation, and power & utilities.

Posted in Chap 03 Processes and life cycles, Sector: Energy & Utilities, Sector: Hospitality & Tourism, Sector: I.T. & ecommerce, Sector: Manufacturing, Sector: Public Services & Charities | Tagged | Leave a comment