July 31, 2014

Automating Daycare…Just Like Manufacturing

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The other night while I was watching TV I saw this Geico commercial.  I thought this was very funny.

I couldn’t believe someone would think about using robots in a daycare setting.  Then it hit me why this was so funny.  I have seen this time and time again in manufacturing so it was something I could relate to.

Have we gone so far as a society with trying to automate our manufacturing plants, car washes, even a drink dispenser at McDonald’s that everyone can relate to the daycare scenario?

The commercial is funny because it is ludicrous.  We would never consider this a viable option.  We want a human to interact with our children so they can adjust to their needs and solve problems that come up throughout the day.  We value having the mind that is attached to the hands and feet of the daycare workers.

So, why don’t we value the minds attached to hands and feet in a manufacturing environment?  In my career, I have come across many people that want to develop a “lights out” facility.  I even worked for a manager that was driven by the idea of a “lights out” facility.

We should value the minds of workers in all industries, from daycare to manufacturing.  Without their minds, how do expect to come up with improvement ideas?  How can the company continue to get better if everything is automated?  Just because it is automated does not mean it isn’t wasteful.  The perfect example is a conveyor belt.  All a conveyor belt does is automate the waste of transportation.  That conveyor belt isn’t going to come up with any ideas on how to eliminate or reduce the waste of transportation.

Automation can be a good thing.  We should consider robots and automation in environments that are dangerous for humans to work in (e.g. a continuous running paint booth or handling hot steel).  Computer automation can help calculate something that is value added and may take days for a human to calculate in a matter of minutes or seconds.

Unfortunately, a lot of engineers feel they need to automate everything in site to prove their value.  Having an engineering degree from Purdue University, I don’t feel the need to do this.  My first thought is how should the process work and then would automation add any value to that improved process.

So the next time you are confronted with an opportunity to automate something ask yourself, “Is this a daycare situation?”

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