STIMS Institute offers its vision of 21st Century Manufacturing.

CEO Dialogue 2I

In a recent CEO Forum organized by MGTL, Dr. K. (Subbu) Subramanian, President STIMS Institute Inc., offered his vision of the 21st Century Manufacturing and outlined the need for requisite work force skills to meet the emerging needs. This forum was held at Pune, India on Nov. 21, 2014. For a complete presentation, please see: Manufacturing in the 21st Century

Few excerpts:

  • “Manufacturing” is a collection of (a) physical processes enabled by a host of (b) information processes and aided by a collection of (c) pick and place and transfer processes, which at the moment are a combination of physical events and information events.
  • Core capability for any manufacturing:  repetitive use of physical processes, to achieve or USE the “Product” at the required quantity, place and time to meet the end user needs.
  • Manufacturers have two options: (a) Steady improvement in the processes already deployed; The result is a constant reduction in the explicit knowledge and skill required with respect to the Physical Processes used. Over time, they have become the black boxes surrounded by a myriad of service processes, which are generic and practiced in all companies and industries. (b) Introduction of a stream of new solutions resulting in New Products, New Processes and New Applications/ USE. These new solutions are the result of intense knowledge of the physical processes unique to the manufacturing company.
  • Breakthrough – step change – solutions will be expected as a routine output of manufacturing professionals of the future. But, in order to sustain such improvements the process has to be managed as a whole – as a system. Constant tweaking or small changes in the system which disturbs the equilibrium of the process cannot be tolerated, if maximum impact is the desired outcome. This will require manufacturing professionals who are simultaneously good at process science as well as process economics, with expertise to integrate knowledge from all available sources.
  • We find two parallel chains operating across all manufacturing companies (i.e.) Supply Chain which deals with the information processes that interconnect the various tiers of manufacturers and Functional Value Chain, where the physical processes and their exploitation play a silent but foundational role across the manufacturers.
  •  Since the products are enables by processes and the USE is also a process in a manner of speaking, we are left with “Process and its knowledge and the capability to manipulate any process” may be the primary core capability or skill set of future manufacturing professionals! The role of human labor and their employment in large numbers is not a critical need in this description of manufacturing. It is important for policy makers to make note of this subtle but significant point.
  • Work force skills required for 21st century manufacturing:

Manufacturing Processes

Traditional Sources of Knowledge

New Knowledge Required

 Traditional Worker Skills

 New Worker Skills Required

   Physical Processes Engineers and shop floor workers with technical training, trade skills and academic education. ·  Process Science·  Diagnostics·  Data and   Analysis·  Sector specific know-how Engineers with years of experience located close to the shop floor operations ·       System Thinkers and Solution Providers Reliant on Process Science·       Reliant on sensors, signals and their use.
 Information Processes Collection of tasks that evolved through the years ·       IT·       Data Base·       Big data·       Analytics White Collar Workers with standard plug and play IT solutions ·       System Thinkers·       Solution Providers·       Customized IT solutions
  Pick and Place / Transfer Processes Industrial work force through many years of training and hands on experience. ·       CNC, Robotics and AGV·       Drones ·       Blue collar workers·       Standard work and tasks·       Physical effort and de-skilled operations. ·       System Thinkers·       Solution Providers·       Comfortable in virtual control environment

Learn to swim against the tide of Binary Economy

It is an undeniable axiom of globalization: anyone in any job or profession has to be better than anyone else who can do the same job from a pool of workers across the globe. Conversely, those who can do a job in a similar manner to others around the globe will be rewarded for their effort at the lowest value at which the work can be procured from anyone else across the globe! Every worker will fall into one of these two extremes. Anyone in the middle will be ultimately swept to the low-labor-cost pool.
While there will be a natural tendency to be swept into the lower-wage pool, it will require a special effort to swim against the current to be associated with the limited few in the high-wage, high-reward pool. Swim against the stream and reach a high place (of New Solutions with identifiable impact) or be swept away into the global pool of low-cost resources (needed for Replication Solutions) is the true paradigm of globalization. There is little or no opportunity for treading water in this paradigm. This constant struggle to swim upstream and against the current is what is perceived as the volatility and uncertainty in the workplace. Suggestions such as higher education, higher SAT scores, and more grit and perseverance are all means to the same end. But as we have detailed in our book – see the links below – all of these have to be formatted toward identification, development, and exploitation of New Solutions using Transformational Skills as the means to this end.

Do you know your “core” capability?

Are you the owner of a small or medium sized manufacturing company? Are you the head of a profit center or a Business Unit that is part of a company group? If you are, it is very likely that you are one of the business leaders, trying to find ways to keep your business above water. Some of you may be concerned about growing your bottom line and in rare occasions seeking ways to further grow your business. But, no matter what your needs are, it is certain that you are facing the stiff winds of global competition, cost pressures, challenges from outsourced operations and above all a sense of uncertainty about the future.

We believe that such pessimism and the sense of gloom and doom about manufacturing industries and their future is not warranted. It is true that there are stiff head winds and it is also true that the waters are turbulent. But, you are not up the creek, with out a paddle!

Have you ever sat back and asked yourself, “How did we (your business unit) get here?” No, I do not mean, how you got into a situation of stiff competition and low profit margins and high costs. These are all obvious and readily known to every one. But, have you figured out how your business or operation grew from its beginnings to where it is today? It did not happen by chance or by some luck or through magic! It happened because you and your people along with your suppliers and your customers contributed their share of knowledge and know-how that resulted in the products you manufacture, the processes you use to make them and also the applications know-how through which your customers use your products. The “Products. Processes and Applications knowhow” are your core capabilities. These core capabilities are embedded in the knowledge of many people connected with your company – through your employees, suppliers and customers and their customers.

You might say “It is indeed true that we did not grow out of thin air. We built our company, brick by brick though our products, manufacturing process capabilities and our know-how to help our customers use our products better. Then, whatever happened to my business or operation, over the years? Why are we struggling today with low profitability and shrinking margins and low to no growth?” One can ask such valid questions and wallow in misery or merely be nostalgic about the good old days for ever. Instead, you can muster the passion to dig deeper.

Your product is not any widget you put in your shipping box. It is not merely something you identify by a product number or a bar code. Product is something of value to some one (the user), who is willing to pay you (the manufacturer) something of value to you. Can you describe your “Product” using the above definition? Is there any one in your sales, product design/development, manufacturing/production, tech-support or general management who can describe your product in terms of the value to your customer and the expected value for you in return? Do you know who they are? Do they all have the same understanding of the user value and manufacture’s value or are they speaking over each other in different languages? Your journey for the future can start right here and now, by developing a common definition of your “Product” and developing a core team across the business functions that speaks the same language about your product.

How well do you know your Processes to manufacture your products? They are not “black box” that nobody knows anything about, after Joe Smith retires from the company! All processes in your manufacturing floor have well defined Inputs, which are converted into Outputs. All processes are “Input/Transformation/Output” system. No, we are not talking about Ph.D language. In the past years, few who knew about the process could tweak them and keep them going, while others were simply pairs of hands to help them out. We can not do that any more. All processes can be diagnosed (using proper sensors and IT tools for measurement), repaired, improved and in some cases changed dramatically. But, you can not do any of the above, if you think that the processes in your shop floor are merely “black box” put in place by some one who left the company years ago! Your journey for the future can start right here and now, by developing a common definition of the key “Processes” in your manufacturing floor and developing a system view of these processes across all the business functions that support such processes. You would not like to see any medical professional with out a stethoscope and a thermometer. Then, why would you not want all your manufacturing process professionals have similar capability to measure and diagnose and cure the problem with respect to your processes and their health?

How well do you know your customer’s processes (Application) and how you can add value in their processes through your products? If software is the enabler of all the growth and success in the IT industry, you can make your AT (Applications Technology) as the enabler for your growth and success in the manufacturing industry. AT helps you to build alliances with your suppliers and customers towards building solutions of shared benefits. If you have treated your process as a black box, it is likely that your customers have done the same with their processes. It is about time, you helped them to do a “health check up” on their processes, while they use your product. After all, strong and healthy customer process is essential for your long term strength and success.

Product, Process and Applications know-how are your core capabilities, which got you where you are today! They are the bench strength of your team. You can do more or less with them enabled by all the plug and play IT capabilities. But, you can not build a manufacturing industry with out the brick and mortar (i.e) Product, Process and Applications Technology. Have you taken the time to cultivate them? If not, may be it is time for you and the key personnel in your team to go through the “Core Capability Boot Camp”?

5 significant lessons for any “Professional” in the 21st Century!

STIMS Institute Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary – Part 1

On June 2021, STIMS Institute reached a significant milestone, its ten year anniversary! There have been many greetings and wishes for our continued success. We thank every one of our collaborators, friends and well wishers. To acknowledge this mile stone, we are pleased to publish a series of highlights summarizing the outcomes from the past ten years. Following is part 1 under the title: 5 significant lessons for any “Professional” in the 21st Century!

  1. Work and wealth Distribution are radically changing. Be aware and get prepared for it. Learn to swim through this sea change! The layers of work are increasingly separate, opaque and impermeable. The opportunity to grow from one layer of work to the next and thus climb the organizational hierarchy may no longer be valid.
  1. There is no “middle”, “learning curve” or “Safety net” unless you want to be dependent on the Government or Charity! Learn to deal with this critical reality of professional life. You can have the “Google jobs” creating a stream of new solutions or “McDonald jobs” which are low wage, plug and play activities. Every job will get pushed to either side, with a chasm in the “middle”.
  1. Jumping across the chasm of the “middle” requires relentless practice of System Thinking for all professionals, at every level. Don’t do what you are asked to do (the task). Figure out what needs to be done, why and how? Then make it happen and rewarding!
  1.   System Thinking can be at three levels. Professional life today is not getting a college degree and then coasting in the job. Instead it is  a relentless search for new solutions everyday and in every job. Some professionals may not need that for their success or survival, if you have already made it or in a specialty area in hot demand. But your fellow professionals depend on you for your stream of new solutions for their success and survival! But, remember that the “hot area of specialty” don’t last as long as before. Their half life is increasingly short!
  1.     Growth in job and career is no longer a matter of how long you worked in a company, job or field of activity. See point 1 above and the impermeable layers in the figure. Every professional at every level of their job or career needs to be focussed on life long learning, contributing through a relentless stream of new solutions. Transform any job / assignment (activity) into a series of goals and their impact. In turn pave the way for the means necessary for sustainability. These are the outcomes of System Thinking and Transformational Skills. Practice them  relentlessly together with your academic education and industry/domain specific learning.

One final point: The Transformational Skills of End to End Innovation, Eco system Development and Emotional Intelligence rely more on the philosophy of thinking on behalf of others – using the heart and the mind in unison with that of every one and everything else. With this philosophic underpinning as a professional strength we can expect peace and harmony within each of us. It in turn will bring skills and resources to work with people and cultures across the globe. They can lead to solutions to meet the growing wealth gap, Climate crisis, racial and religious dissentions and other adverse effects of the 21st century society.

Will you be a System Thinking and Transformational technical professional as well as a Philosophic universalist? The power is well within each of us and collectively in all of us. Our decade of progress at STIMS Institute points out that there is indeed opportunity for both these pathways for evolution for all of us.

Humans: Our Nature?

The recent article in NYT also appears elsewhere in NYT The Morning version under ‘Our nature as humans’. This article ends with the summary: “Many people want to believe that being a generous employer is crucial to being a successful company. But that isn’t always true”. This would appear to be an example of an opinion stated as a fact!

No one should believe that any employer will be generous or benevolent, any more than any employee will voluntarily work for peanuts, just for the love of it. The relationship between any employer and employee is always an economic transaction driven by price elasticity. The value perceived by an employer and hence the wages offered will depend on the needs for the business met by the employee. The employer will always find ways to decrease the value of all its resources used while seeking to gain the most value out of it. Sadly it is true for any machinery or Robot used, as much as it is for the people used as resources by any employer at all levels. This treatment of human resources as “non-human”, yet as needed resources started in the late 70s and has continued to accelerate unabated. The Digital data driven innovations under the misnomer of “Technology” has been the driving force for this change. As long as we fail to recognize this driving force, for what it is, or couch it under any other reasoning we do a disservice to the very same workers we want to give a helping hand.

Amazon encouraged employee turnover. After three years on the job, hourly workers no longer received automatic raises, and the company offered bonuses to people who quit. It also offered limited upward mobility for hourly workers, preferring to hire managers from the outside. As is often the case with one of Amazon’s business strategies, it worked”.

Let us dissect the above quote here:

Planned Obsolescence is a well-known strategy in the business world.  When the job is repeated or carried out merely as “tasks”, without any additional added value, workers become obsolete over time. In fact, the same workers if they also expect higher wages with time (and rightfully so to meet their growing personal needs), they can be replaced with junior employees at lower wages but with the same skills as required by the job. Perhaps Jeff Bezos and Amazon realized this basic business economics along with all others – both the workers as well as the employers. Sadly the success of Bezos in using this strategy would appear to be much more aggressive and hence far more financially successful. But, let any worker who is guided to believe Jeff Bezos as the only or primary villain is being misguided by NYT and its article. Instead every worker and indeed all students from middle school onwards have to constantly gain new skills and add value through such new skills, to remain indispensable for the employers. Absence of this broader perspective and hence a change in our way of thinking – from task oriented to holistic or solution oriented – dominates every facet of the challenges imposed on us that we face today. For additional details see:   and

Lack of upward mobility in jobs for hourly workers is another Trojan horse created by the evolution in the relentless application of Digital Solutions. Let us be clear. No one should be anti-Technology. That will be like burying one’s head in the sand. It will also be like standing in the ocean beach waiting for the waves to subside! It is not wise, prudent or even feasible. But, we need to understand the impermeable layers in jobs created by Digital Technology (DT) innovations. Every worker in Amazon warehouse uses tools enabled by DT. But, they have very little knowledge, education or even awareness of how these tools or solutions are created. They are created by a whole different set of coders (IT workers). We see a high employee turnover in the High Tech. sector companies as well as at Amazon! The point is this: No one at any job can expect to climb the ladders of the organization as we used to do in the 50s and 60s. Following are couple of illustrations to describe the traditional work and its separation into impermeable layers. We also see the consequence of that in the wealth and its distribution.

Then what is the answer? As long as labor is getting rewarded for what we do as human beings, we can gain such rewards only through our physical efforts (Amazon ware house jobs), managing and manipulating information (IT jobs) or creative use of our brain to constantly conceive and implement solutions of added value to the employers or whoever is paying the wages! In other words it is not doing what you are asked to do (task oriented). Instead figuring out what you need to do and making it happen and getting paid for it (solution oriented). For details, see this short video:

The ability to be relentlessly innovative through System Thinking and Transformational Skills may be good pathway for some people and for some period of time. But, what happens to the millions who cannot climb on to this small boat for their success and survival? You can see this question raised and the answer at:  

As individuals each of us have a need to constantly learn and fine tune our skills and use them relentlessly to build and implement a stream of new solutions. For details:  Such personal effort for self-betterment must go far beyond seeking free college education or merely higher degrees in task oriented education from the archaic and obsolete teachers, schools and colleges in our educational system. At the same time there should be concerted effort to use the wealth gained by those through DT Applications.  Wealth tax, higher tax rates for ultra-rich, progressive tax on non-wage income, and minimum corporate tax as resources to build the infrastructure and meet basic needs of the population left behind by DT revolution must be our collective social goal.

Our nature as humans is to think and reflect. Such reasoning leads to objective analysis of data and observations. This in turn leads to identification of the problem and its possible solutions while keeping our bias and ignorance in check. It leads to enhanced knowledge and awareness of our ignorance and bias. Again we seek new knowledge leading to better solutions and its implementation. We benefit from the results (rewards) and we share such benefits through the results of our solutions. The journey continues. DT can be a useful tool in this journey.

People like Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump and many others will come and go. They may succeed temporarily thanks to DT applications, which can be a bow yoke that ties down individuals and society as cattle used to plow the field, no matter what we do and in any field of activity. It requires us to resort to reasoning and comprehension first to escape the shackles of DT and its negative effects, while gaining from its positives and beneficial effects. The future of human as an egalitarian society depends on that.

New Videos added to STIMS Institute Website

Recently Dr. K. (Subbu) Subramanian, President, STIMS Institute presented a Webinar to the students and faculty at Texas A&M, hosted by Prof. Satish Bukhapatnam. Few excerpts from this webinar are posted below:

Science of Grinding Processes:   

Science of Grinding Ceramics:   

Introduction to System Thinking and Transformational Skills: What and Why  they are essential for the 21st Century Professionals? 

Translating Manufacturing Process Research into Commercial applications: Case Study: Grinding of Thin Film Heads for Magnetic Recording applications in Computer Industry      

System Thinking and Transformational Skills – Q and A: 

  1. How do you pick the right project or opportunity for “New Solutions” to constantly innovate?
  2. What is the difference between Task Vs. Solution? Always ask “Why?” and not merely “How?”
  3. What will happen to those who are left out of higher value added work due to automation and AI?