Updated: 9/30/08; 6:03:47 AM.
Gary Mintchell's Feed Forward
Manufacturing and Leadership.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When I talked with Kepware's Roy Kok Friday, he said there was another release coming. And here it is. The company now provides device connectivity from plant floor equipment to Oracle's manufacturing applications that include Oracle Manufacturing Operations Center and Oracle Discrete Manufacturing. Kepware's KEPServerEX delivers information directly to these Oracle applications through specially built interfaces. The products are now available from Kepware and its sales and distribution partners.

This move will put pressure on the company's competition for direct connection to enterprise software applications.

5:10:28 PM    comment []

New Automation Gear post--smart cameras from National Instruments. Release sent to me via Twitter

1:01:52 PM    comment []

Happy September. I spent the weekend refereeing a couple of high school soccer matches, reading and reflecting. Part of my thinking was on Labor Day itself. This is inextricably bound with the mass media hype (it just loves bad news) surrounding the demise of American manufacturing. In fact, Manufacturing in America is still strong--as a business. It is no longer strong as an employer of unskilled labor paying middle-class wages. We have seen the same economic forces play out in agriculture, yet we refuse to see what's happening to our industry sector.

In the drive to be competitive in an expanding playing field, manufacturers have searched for ways to produce their products with higher quality and lower cost. The answer has been automation. In many cases, automation has also relieved workers of the burden of unsafe or physically debilitating work. But just as farmers--who often have college degrees--produce more with fewer workers thanks to the automation developed to help them, so manufacturers also produce more with fewer workers--who also best have college or technical school degrees. The nature of work has changed. The brief period of human history where unskilled labor could reap the benefits of the economic engine has passed. Even in China, a country famous for throwing huge amounts of human capital into a project, has discovered that to compete globally it must automate factories.

This train of thought leads back to development of young people and education. People--mostly boys--of my parents' generation and my generation who didn't like school or didn't want to try could still find jobs that paid a living wage as unskilled laborers in a factory. The work may be tough but it paid well enough. By the 1980s, this was changing. It took both husband and wife working in the factory to bring home a middle class income. Then things got even worse. Unskilled labor started migrating to McDonalds and other retail, low wage employers.

We truly live in a knowledge economy. That doesn't mean everyone needs an MBA (thank God), but it does mean everyone who wants to get ahead and live a middle class life style had better get some education and training. The jobs in manufacturing now require either a 2-year technical degree or college education. Kids with no motivation or a negative attitude will be left to serve others with jobs that won't pay enough to participate in the lifestyle they see on their TVs.

Motivation is a complex thing. Some seem to be born with a drive to succeed. Others (probably most) need guidance, nurturing or a metaphorical kick in the butt. Negative attitudes are often the result of upbringing. It's hard to overcome that. Unfortunately there is a "self esteem" movement in the school system that preaches don't let the kids feel badly by failing them. Give them an A even though they earned an F. They'll feel better about themselves and someday they'll succeed. This does not work. People feel better about themselves when they succeed. What is needed is an education system that helps kids learn a skill then succeed by doing something. That was the part of Obama's speech that I appreciated. "Liberals" have often been the "self esteem" people. To hear a "liberal" (I suppose that's what he is) talk about responsibility and hard work is refreshing.

In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Robert Pirsig says that the motorcycle you are working on is really yourself. Your hard work should also be pointed at yourself--toward your own development. And this should be the theme of every classroom and every parent directed toward the next generation. Supposedly legendary coach John Wooden had a sign in his office that said, "When you're through learning, you're through." How true.

7:23:23 AM    comment []

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