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”?

Big Tech has big problems; Can the Techies shown the door turn it into an opportunity?

I came across this item in my mail today from 

The Economist
Adam Roberts Digital editor
Big tech has big problems. After a bull run that lasted years, the sector is suffering a sharp correction. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have collectively lost $2trn in stockmarket value in the past year. On November 9th Meta, the parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said it would shed 11,000 people, or 13% of its workforce; Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, sacked half its personnel. According to Crunchbase, a data provider, more than 60,000 American techies have been shown the door in 2022.
We’ve been looking at what went wrong. Shaky business models are partly to blame, along with soaring inflation and rising mortgage payments that have left digital consumers with less disposable income to splash out on digital delights. Meanwhile the sector is afflicted with “conglomeritis”, the symptoms of which are bloating and egomania. William Magnuson’s magnificent history of corporations, reviewed in our Culture section this week, suggests this is not a new phenomenon. For more than 2,000 years corporations have produced some of humankind’s greatest achievements. But usually the most dazzling overstep the mark, leaving a trail of debris and distrust. 

The above addresses the problem that many are seeing in the Bay Area through the lens of their network and the pain it causes. On November 9th Meta, the parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, said it would shed 11,000 people, or 13% of its workforce; Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, sacked half its personnel. According to Crunchbase, a data provider, more than 60,000 American techies have been shown the door in 2022. 

The summary or conclusion as noted:
But usually the most dazzling overstep the mark, leaving a trail of debris and distrust. 
is the general “blame those at the top”. No one can deny that. But it is also stating the obvious (i.e.) the “Bottleneck” is the result of the neck at the top of the bottle! Such oversimplified generalizations leave out the role of self-realization and individual responsibility. 

Over the generations those who have weathered the challenges of time and economic cycles are those who have constantly delved deep into the  situation and their personal contribution to value generation. We call this as the propensity to be aware of the need for “New Solutions” and make them real and implemented. These System Thinkers with Transformational Skills are the only ones who survive on a sustainable basis in the long run. These skills have been in acute need since the late 70s, since the birth of Digital Technology, the seed for the “Digital Darlings”! For details, please see:

The  bloating and egomania  suggests another creeping problem or need. One can not survive and be sustainable in the long run if ego and bloating (Vanity) are your drivers as evidenced in the decisions and behavior of Musk and Zuckerberg! You don’t need a public regulation to suggest that Fake  News is wrong as much as Fake Food, Fake Medicine or anything else Fake! It comes from a deep spiritual faith, a true belief in the view that “I am my brother’s keeper”! Even an animal or plant can not survive in the long run fending for its own needs without regard for the environment that supports it. In the end the plant or animal species will die or perish. We call this outlook of caring for others while taking care of oneself as “Spirituality in Practice ”. Let us hope such natural order is returning and a balance to self-regulate anything “Fake” in the media, politics, business, public discourse and economic activity. Perhaps one can hope for that as the much needed outcome of the recent midterm elections?

“We’re in this era of measurement but we don’t know what we should be measuring” ……….

Taylor’s Time and Motion study to enhance worker productivity was introduced in the early 20th century in the USA. Now we are in the 21st century. Despite all our advances and progress, measuring worker productivity continues unabated as reflected in the following NYT article: The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score:   Across industries and incomes, more employees are being tracked, recorded and ranked. What is gained, companies say, is efficiency and accountability. What is lost? By Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram; Produced by Aliza Aufrichtig and Rumsey Taylor.  Aug. 14, 2022

Following are couple of quotes from this NYT essay:

In lower-paying jobs, workplace monitoring has already been ubiquitous. But now, across industries and incomes, more employees are being tracked, recorded and ranked. We’re in this era of measurement but we don’t know what we should be measuring,” said Ryan Fuller, former vice president for workplace intelligence at Microsoft.

The comment from the former Microsoft executive is telling. It speaks volumes on the quandary we all face in this “New Economy”, “Knowledge Economy”, “Digital World”, “Information Economy”, “Flat world”, “Globalization”,  ………….. whatever you wish to call it? Any of these economic orders began their roots in the late 1970s and took a firm hold by the dawn of the 21st Century!

We refer your attention to two books that address this need to measure, assess and manage worker productivity at all levels in the 21st Century ! 

In the book published in the year 2000 – The System Approach – A strategy to survive and succeed in the global Economy  we address the issue of Productivity at the enterprise level as well as the worker level:

“Globalization” requires a constant strive to improve productivity.  If the productivity improvement is incremental – we shall call this a “Better Mousetrap” it is difficult to identify the benefit of such improvements.  Frequently such incremental improvements may get lost in the “noise” or “variability” in measurements.  The “noise” becomes larger as the factors and their measurements are considered on a worldwide basis.  

On the other hand, if the productivity improvements are large or quantum in nature, we shall call them, “Different Mouse Trap.”  If such advantage can be perceived on a worldwide basis, then such individual or enterprise remains successful in a “global” economy.

Any success in a “global” economy for any enterprise requires the following: 

·         Are there approaches or strategies that help to define the activity of the enterprise in terms of an “input/process/output” system with its associated value or benefit to the participants in the system? 

·         Once the input/process/output system is defined, are there approaches to achieve quantum improvement in the output of such systems?

From the above analysis (for details please see the book), a set of conclusions may also be drawn from the point of view of individual employees:

·         There is a profound change in the workplace, where “task” oriented job functions are being eliminated and replaced by fewer “solution” oriented jobs.

·         This change is occurring at all levels – from the lowest level worker to the highest executive in the organization.

·         This diminishing employment opportunity can be managed through “shared sacrifice” thereby lowering the living standard of all involved.

In retrospect, after four decades we find this approach a loosing proposition, even dangerously challenging the vitality of the nation as a Democracy.

·         Alternatively those few that find the means or ability to transition to a “problem solver” role or solution driven job function, survive and succeed in the changing employment marketplace.

·         These “problem solvers” are often described as entrepreneurial, system oriented, holistic or ultra-preneurs.  

In the subsequent sections of the book we describe the “System Approach” to define any job as a solution oriented activity. We also identify the parameters that belong to each aspect of the “system” and how to measure them!

Above views are not merely theoretical concepts. Instead they were reduced to practice and implemented as useful tools, which saved scores of jobs in a high attrition manufacturing work space. These productivity tools also helped scores of others to rise through the ranks, even as the organizational layers were reduced and flattened! This practical, results oriented outcome was further reduced into seven “Transformational Skills”. They are described in detail in a book published in the year 2013 titled: Thriving in the 21st Century Economy – Transformational Skills for Technical Professionals”. 

These Transformational Skills also offer means to measure and manage the productivity of workers in any profession in the current workforce. They are:

  1. Develop a “Common Language” – on the “What?” is required and “Why?” – these are the “Technical” and “System” outputs of the job, assignment or solution!
  2. Maintain and manage the “System View” of the job as a “Solution” – Input/Transformation/Output” System – and not a random collection of tasks.
  3. Emphasize on the integrated use of three Dimensions of Core Capabilities:
    1. Individual: Knowledge, Experience and People Skills
    2. Project / Team: Science, Engineering (Application of Science) and Management (Operations and Strategy)
    3. Solution / Enterprise: Physical Technology, Digital Technology and Market/need drivers.
  1. Relentless focus on Data, its analysis and use. More Digital, the better!
  2. Develop an Ecosystem that promotes and fosters items 1 to 4 above. It is never lonely out there!
  1. Emphasis on End to End Innovation – Define/Discover X Develop X Deploy / Implement. In the above equation, if the value is Zero for anyone of the three parameters, the overall score is Zero!
  2. Emotional Intelligence: Win with others! Winning only for one’s sake is never sustainable nor satisfactory in the long run. After all, you are a human being!

A brief Video on Transformational Skills

On Sep. 4, 2021 Dr. Subramanian presented a Webinar under KITE Webinar series hosted by AMTDC at IIT Madras, Chennai, India. This is part of a series of Webinars useful to young professionals to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

A brief edited version of the webinar can be seen at

After a brief introduction (First 3 minutes), Dr. Subramanian takes the viewer through a series of episodes in his professional life, which required and shaped his views on System Thinking and Transformational Skills.

The second half of the video (about 20 minutes) uses a set of few slides and their description to make the concepts of ST and TS more concrete and easier to follow for any professional.

Enjoy the viewing and learning!

IT or DT is not the only “Technology”!

This morning as I was reading the following, I felt vindicated in some small scale! We know the ‘wi’ in ‘wi-fi’ means wireless but what does the ‘fi’ mean?

WiFi is short for “wireless fidelity.” This is not the case. WiFi is simply a trademarked term meaning IEEE 802.11x. The false notion that the brand name “WiFi” is short for “wireless fidelity” has spread to such an extent that even industry leaders have included the phrase wireless fidelity in a press release. You’ll also find references to WiFi being short for wireless fidelity on a number of well-known and respected technology-focused publications and websites. The truth is, WiFi isn’t short for anything and it never was.

The above is equally true for the common use of the term “Technology”!

In a recent post we have mentioned the following:

Science, Engineering and Management — Integrating the above is Technology. 
Digital or IT is NOT the only “Technology”. It is just one form of Technology.
Using the word “Technology” and imply DT or IT is a very vivid example of lack in common language. This singular failure across the globe (of the word technology and its meaning) has made all education other than IT / Computer Science appear less relevant or valuable in public perception! It also illustrates a lack of discipline and in-depth knowledge across the media professionals, pundits, educators, policy makers and politicians who merely use the words for their sound bite and not as a means to communicate what they truly mean or understand.

This lack of common language permeates every where. Do we really know what the words Democracy, Conservative, Liberal, Safety-net, Religion, Spiritual, …. truly stand for?

Do we teach our students the difference between Science, Engineering and Management and their integration in STEM education? Or do we simply cloak the “T” in STEM for IT? The “M” in the STEM education stands for “Mathematics” or “Management”? How can you teach anything analytical without “M” for Mathematics? Why is that singled out in STEM? Management implied skills for Strategic thinking and operational excellence. What good is it to teach STEM, if such education does not contain “M” for Management?



Yes, we are tired of Digital Technology and its onslaught on everything “normal”. Like the old battle cry leading to the revolutionary war – “the British are coming” – there is now a chorus saying “AI and Robotics are coming”. This change in the nature of work began in the the late 1970s. In the year 2000, our first book was published titled “The System Approach – A Strategy to Survive and Succeed in the Global Economy” where we stated “if you merely repeat what you have done before and there are others who can do the same, then the lowest cost person will remain employed. To Survive and succeed in this Global Economy, you need to be a System Thinker – figuring out what needs to be done and why and make that happen – and not merely a task oriented person (doing what you are asked to do without questioning)!”

Since then we have explored this need and the means for survival in professional life, with modest success. More than that, we have been able to mentor and train a large body of fellow professionals across the globe. This resulted in the summary – Transformational Skills – published in 2013 with co-author Prof. Rangan. The Transformational skills all are interconnected and not sequential or hierarchical. They are:

  1. Always develop a common language
    • Our biggest challenge today in our Digital world is that we are rich in words (information), poor in their meaning and common understanding. 
  2. 3D view of core capabilities:
    • Personal: Knowledge, Experience, Interpersonal skills
    • Professional: Science, Engineering and Management
      • Integrating the above is Technology 
      • Digital or IT is NOT the only “Technology”. It is just one form of Technology
        • A very vivid example of lack in common language.
        • This singular failure across the globe (of the word technology and its meaning) has made all education other than IT / Computer Science appear less relevant or valuable in public perception!
    • Enterprise: DT (Digital World), Physical Technology and Finance / Market Drivers.
  3. Always frame the situation / problem / opportunity as an “Input/Transformation / Output” system. 
    • The whole is always larger than and different from the mere sum of its parts!
  4. Emphasis on analysis, reasoning, data and inference
    • We are in a Knowledge Economy. Knowledge requires using our intellectual skills extensively.
  5. End to End Innovation: 
    • Solution and its impact matters.
    • But you can not get there without diligence
    • Nor can you get there without a shared vision and emotional intelligence (6 and 7 below).
  6. Develop and maintain a network for shared vision, goals and efforts..
    • Opportunities for collaboration and shared vision are limitless. All constraints in any form (nation, gender, family, self, rich/poor, have/have not, race, religion, intelligent/dumb, etc.) are all self imposed constraints.
  7. Emotional Intelligence.
    • Think and do good for others; it might be the only right thing for you to get better!
    • May everyone and indeed everything exist in peace and harmony!

Today I was watching a PBS episode titled: Future of work
Using many visual examples the show arrives at a model for “Barbell Economy”, where the middle is depleted while strengthening of the two ends (high income jobs and low wage jobs). Actually this is a poor model of reality. The depletion in the middle is not equally pushed to either side like the barbell. See:
We have captured the changing nature of work more accurately as “Binary Economy” in our book titled “Thriving in the 21st Century Economy – Transformational Skills for Technical Professionals” published by ASME Press in 2013 – nearly 9 years ago:

At the end of the PBS show, after an hour long lament on what is happening, the show leaves with a vague plea for change, with no formal or structured solution at the end! :-( Honestly, I felt depressed that at the end of the show there is nothing concrete to advance the society. But, this is nothing new. Most essays and movies on this topic rehash the past rather than leading the charge for change to the future.

Contrast that with our book where we lay out the Binary Economy model (the why?) in the first half, and we end with a clear set of Transformational Skills (the what to do about it) and the necessity for sustained education towards that in the second half of the book.
 The gravity of this issue and the solution have been further condensed into five simple illustrations:

Will some one interested in workforce development (Educators, policy makers, parents, students) take a look at the Transformational Skills needed and adapt them as part of a sustained education and communication effort?

The forces of Digital Technology are the same in terms of challenges for companies to survive and succeed. The same Transformational Skills are also equally applicable to enterprises as they apply to individual workers.