Who should be making production decisions?

Is 'empowering operators' a good idea? When does decision making become 'too many cooks in the kitchen?'


Dear Control Engineering: I was watching the video with Sudipta Bhattacharya about the advantages of leaving decision making to people at the plant level. Somehow I can’t see how that is practical. What kinds of decisions is he talking about?

If you have the impression that he’s suggesting refinery operators adjust output in response to a ticker-tape feed from a commodity market where crude oil futures are being traded, you’re missing the point. He isn’t talking about micromanagement at that kind of level.

On the other hand, if the operators in a given plant are paying attention to what is going on within the company and the larger markets that they serve, they can have a good handle on when it is an opportune time to slow down or shut down for maintenance, as opposed to when it is time to maximize production to take advantage of a favorable market.

His contention is not that plant level people are somehow smarter than management necessarily (although that might be the case depending on who you ask), but that they may be privy to detail that can inform a decision better than someone looking down from 30,000 feet. As Bhattacharya points out, having to go to management to get clearance to take down a unit in a critical situation simply slows down the decision-making process. Well informed plant-level people that have a strong grasp of their objectives and have the kind of business-level information that they need can make such a call more quickly when the situation requires it.

Of course, empowerment requires accountability. Such empowered individuals must be ready and willing to deal with the consequences of their decisions, so some at the plant level may not welcome such responsibility. Answers to these questions will be based on the people involved and the larger corporate culture, so no two situations will be exactly the same. Some companies with strict centralized planning would find this idea horrifying, but such companies sacrifice agility to maintain control.

Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safety for 18 years, warehouse maintenance tips, Ethernet and the IIoT, GAMS 2016 recap
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Safety at every angle, Big Data's impact on operations, bridging the skills gap
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role of plant safety and offers advice on best practices.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me