The Humachine

Peter Francis headshot

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1 min read

If you think your employees are part of your process machinery, then stop reading now!

Only businesses who feel that they have employees who work with the process, but also work with machines will be interested in this.

A process is a sequence of actions that transform something in state or location, and can be a physical process, such as manufacturing, pharmaceutical and cooking, or could be an information process, such as ERP or accounting. The idea of a process is to make those changes in a controlled and predictable manner.

So, why do we have people in parts of our process?

It’s because they have a brain, they can make decisions and judgements and can manipulate objects.

Well, that sort of describes a machine too, doesn’t it? And machinery can keep doing the same thing reliably over and over again, doesn’t need to take breaks, doesn’t tire and can be updated relatively easily. So why have a human in there?

In practice, virtually all operations can be carried out by machines, transferring heavy loads between points to fine manipulation; measuring nano quantities to bulk additions; heating or cooling at a precise rate of change. And frequently it can be safer for a machine to do them.

Because machinery is repeatable, it depends upon repeatability, consistency of raw materials, precision in dimensions, regularity of speed. A machine can be programmed to respond to changes within defined limits, as long as the responses are also defined.

However, when you have variability coming in, you need the capacity to vary your process – to analyse whether the process is behaving as expected and to decide how to deal with it.

Sure, computing power is becoming cheaper and more accessible and artificial intelligence is far more prevalent in industrial applications, but putting that much analytical capability into a point in your process plant AND adding some form of manipulation to deal with problems is starting to add up in cost.

Then take the breakdown, which often happens at times of high stress. Do you have a machine that reacts, identifies the problem, acquires any replacement components or repairs in situ? Or does it carry on making the problem worse or sit sulking like a toddler being told to come out of the playpark? No, your maintenance and breakdown team will come to the rescue, who along with your process operators are likely to be PROACTIVE in dealing with a problem before it matures into one.

Your human process team are those who understand the process and its machinery best. They know the signs of a malfunction, they know when things are not quite right, they often know how to fix a problem and they frequently work hard to make sure that production is able to continue, so whenever you need or want to make a change, they are the vital asset that needs to be included as they’re the key to making it successful.

So, instead of treating your human workforce as machinery, combine your ideas and intentions with their understanding to bring about a plan that both your workforce and boardroom are happy will meet the goals, and by empowering that workforce, you have a strong advocacy to develop and improve the whole business.

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