Being there

Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, called it a "digital cockpit." Others frequently refer to it as a "dashboard." No matter. The concept is the same: a group of numbers or graphs that allow you to constantly check the pulse of your plant or department quickly — and in real time, if possible. Ideally, such a tool includes alarms that alert you when something goes wrong or when measures move...


Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, called it a "digital cockpit." Others frequently refer to it as a "dashboard." No matter. The concept is the same: a group of numbers or graphs that allow you to constantly check the pulse of your plant or department quickly — and in real time, if possible. Ideally, such a tool includes alarms that alert you when something goes wrong or when measures move outside of preset limits.

Sounds neat, doesn't it? From right there at your desk you can monitor your plant at any time. With just a few clicks of your computer mouse you can determine what's going on and what might need your attention. And with a few extra bells and whistles, you might even keep tabs on the plant with your wireless Internet-equipped PDA, no matter where you are. Cool.

Having essential information automatically delivered or immediately accessible isn't just a dream. It's becoming an increasingly popular management tool as plants and companies become more sophisticated in their data gathering and analysis capabilities. And it's a valuable tool. No question about it.

But it's not a total replacement for the frequent plant tour that has long been the practice for plant engineers. There's nothing quite like being out on the plant floor, talking to workers, hearing the rhythms, feeling the pulse, and absorbing the environment with all your senses. Reviewing data will never be the same as visiting a work site, seeing the progress, and discussing the difficulties.

And then there's the people contact. While technology may make it possible, even encourage us to never leave our offices, we can't lose sight of the need to interact face to face, to be physically present where the action is.

In our private lives, the tendency to cut back on social interactions, to retreat into the seclusion of our homes has been dubbed "cocooning." And it can become an enticing practice in our workplaces as we wrestle with the press of paperwork and the deluge of data. But we need to fight the tendency. Especially when we're trying to work our way out of the depressing conditions of a down economy.

The successful leader doesn't rally the troops by sending an inspiring e-mail message. The successful coach doesn't enthuse his players from the press box. There is nothing like a personal presence for inspiring, assessing, evaluating, learning, and encouraging.

So build your dashboard. Visit your digital cockpit. Use the tools. But don't let them become substitutes for being there.

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After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

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The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

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