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.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

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

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

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.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

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Maintenance & Safety
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