Lately we hear so much negative publicity about Generation Y folks who grew up attached to PCs, iPhones, iPads, video games and a variety of other take-it-for-granted technology. Where does this all leave the future of American manufacturing?
There are critics who claim that millennials are becoming less social, more introverted, more instant-gratification focused, and are using technology to escape their real world. Personally I would prefer that my son spend more time on homework than "Call of Duty."
But I believe that there is a tremendous groundswell of new mindsets and talent being developed below all the bad press of gaming systems, iPhones and other technologies. I observe my son and his friends interacting globally and suddenly realize that essentially, this interconnected network of geographically dispersed teens entertaining themselves within graphically represented processes could most likely become the way we work in the near future.
Imagine the potential of global supply chains, global product and/or software development, transportation and logistics management, manufacturing execution, supplier management, healthcare scheduling and logistics, finance, and other key business processes with borrowed gaming architecture embedded in their business systems.
Think about the implications of pushing technology, process and innovative thinking to these new limits:
- Managing global demand and supply chains in real time through a rapid response Sense-Interpret-Decide-Act-Monitor (SIMDE) process. Buyer planners could literally view their graphically interactive responsibility segment of the supply chain with their respective customers and suppliers, see their performance detractors appearing in their game, and -- with their headsets, game controllers or iPhones -- make instant adjustments (e.g., real-time action report prioritization and execution) to keep the supply and demand chain synchronized.
- Engineers having the ability to view an interactive graphical representation of the new product development projects, their respective stage gate status and all interdependent activities. It would become easy through a few clicks to predict and prevent potential process bottlenecks and other design issues, and continuously to realign projects, resources, and tasks in the right sequence and in real time to reduce time to market by 80% or more. This would elevate U.S. innovation, time-to-market, domestic manufacturing and revenue from new products beyond belief.
- Dynamic production schedules with small fixed windows (e.g., real time to minutes) where focused manufacturing associate teams could graphically view the immediate status of all items, communicate instantly to operators, predict potential problem situations, optimize changeovers and uptime, and continuously evaluate updates (e.g., run sequences, mixed model scheduling, dynamic pull systems, universal cells, quality improvements, etc.) to optimize throughput and synchronize supply with demand at the execution level.
- Loading "full" shipping containers in real time, with the right mix of products to meet geographical demands and minimize inventory and other idle assets . . . or maybe some type of interim-managed and scheduled drop shipment and mini-container capability through special handling and eventually, a fleet of drones to the top-tier customers. A drummer of a popular rock band had his kit lost in transit, and had a new custom configured drum kit delivered next day via helicopter directly to the concert venue. The future is not far off.
- Transforming local cost and service delivery efficiencies to new breakthrough levels, enabling a higher base of domestic manufacturing content . . . replacing traditional machining and production processes with real-time 3-D printing and other direct digital manufacturing technologies on demand/on site, increasing the physical and collaborative digital closeness to customers and suppliers, and working as a single transparent, locally designed, sourced, produced, and distributed enterprise model.
American manufacturing is not dead, and technology is reinventing the potential for regaining our domestic manufacturing base in a big way. Behind the whirlwind advancements in technology is a very simple lean concept at play: Technology is reducing cycle times and expanding the individual's capability to manage manufacturing and business process issues.
Hence, detractors of performance become fewer, smaller and simpler to correct.
Maybe we need to convince SEGA, Nintendo, Xbox (Microsoft) and the other large gaming companies to integrate their lines of business into more real-life business application architectures, but carry over the emotional excitement levels of gaming into the infrastructure. The R&D organizations of Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM, and other software solution providers already are developing many of these interactive digital technologies and innovations into their business model architectures of the future.
Who are the leading resources in this development? Many of today's best software engineers are millennials who grew up with video game technology. We are in the midst of an interesting revolution in manufacturing technologies and enterprise information architectures that already are creating new, higher-paying professional and technical jobs.
We may not be ready for what is coming at us at lightning speed, but technology is rapidly changing the structure of industries and organizations. Technology is also changing the core competency requirements to support these real-time futuristic opportunities.
I don't know about you but I have changed my perceptions of our millennial generation's matter-of-fact use of connected technology, gaming, continuous digital communication and the like. Of course I do not approve of texting and emailing while driving, but it is so obvious that our millennial generation is building the core skills to make future innovations in manufacturing and business process management possible.
More organizations will resemble Google, FedEx, Amazon and many other organizations that have transformed themselves into mega-software giants that happen to have physical assets and inventory interfaced (attached) to their information chain architecture.
I believe that this is the future of business and manufacturing, and an exciting one at that. What do you think?
Terence T. Burton is president and chief executive officer of the Center for Excellence in Operations Inc. (CEO), a management consulting firm specializing in implementing strategic and operational improvement initiatives. CEO has headquarters in Bedford, N.H., and offices in Munich, Germany. This article includes material from his latest book, “Out of the Present Crisis: Rediscovering Improvement in the New Economy.” For additional information, visit www.ceobreakthrough.com or contact the author directly at [email protected].