Blog

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. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech  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: https://stimsinstitute.com/2020/11/22/commentary-on-american-factory/   and https://stimsinstitute.com/2016/05/23/do-americans-really-miss-the-unions/

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! https://gethppy.com/employee-engagement/can-tech-industry-solve-employee-tenure-problem 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvZb-qmjakY

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJxLXBgQZi4  

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: https://stimsinstitute.com/20151207books/  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?

Commentary on “American Factory”

Oscar 2020: Obamas thrilled at American Factory nomination | Daily Mail  Online

American Factory is a 2019 documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao’s factory in Moraine, a city near Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant.   It is the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Factory 

I was curious to learn where or how Fuyao Glass obtained its Glass Technology knowhow? Through Google search and reflection on the information obtained, here are some interesting observations:

1. The basic process technology / know-how came from two legacy companies: Saint-Gobain (French) and PPG (USA).

As much as the US and French companies have attempted to invest and globalize outside their national base, Fuyao has done the same by expanding outside of China and investing in the USA.

2. As is the case in most manufacturing sector industries, we see no focus on breakthrough or radical technologies in this movie for legacy business such as automotive glass.

At the end of the movie one can see the emphasis on robotics and automation. Automation is seen as “technology” and the way into the future (with the implied unavoidable diminishing of work force and employment for the factory workers). Paradoxically the theme of the movie is the fight against union workers and union’s stated goal to save their jobs! It is like fighting to serve the soup out of a pot where there is less and less soup left to serve!

Please see our blog post, “Do Americans really miss the unions?” https://stimsinstitute.com/2016/05/23/do-americans-really-miss-the-unions/

Process innovation and creating “New Solutions” is the way forward for better employment. Union or no-union would be merely a side show in this inevitable technology growth and migration.However, even legacy knowledge, application and know-how such as that required for current automotive glass would appear sufficient for a Chinese investor to take the risks and make money out of it in the USA.

The financial economics acceptable to the Chinese investor may work only under low wages for work force in USA. Hence the pressure and ultimately the success of Fuyao to keep the labor union out as seen in the movie.

At the same time, the Chinese parent Co. highlights the Worker Union in China under the local political system!

Anyone who believes the “the world is flat” under globalization should re-think such simplification and their enormous impact in public perception. https://stimsinstitute.com/20151207books/

3. US Government (at the State as well as Federal levels) have failed to manage the global capital investments and transactions and their implications on work force wages even under the “Anti-China” attitude expressed in public by the Trump administration or the Republican led state Govt. in Ohio or the Dem. Senator such as Sherrod Brown of Ohio!

4. UAW has also failed miserably in that their only goal was to unionize the workforce in Fuyao. They did not see the need to train the workers and get them better skilled than the Chinese workers. The Chinese expatriates in the movie would appear to have only hands on experience acquired from their working in their plants in China.

UAW in collaboration with local universities could set up training and resources that empowers the workers with better knowledge and skills.

Such re-training and education on how to survive under globalization could be for all workers – union or non-union. After all such better educated workers would be better customers and future UAW union members?

5. The academic and other research/scientific resources – available in plenty in Ohio and Midwest – had not stepped in to improve the work content, training and quality of the workers.

The movie shows an American supervisor trying to mimic the Chinese drill for the workers in Ohio at the beginning of the shift. While this would seem as a parody at first, such meaningless copying of Chinese and Japanese work place habits are frequently noted in the industries.

It is sad to see the psychological stress of the workers left to believe that they had good paying jobs and good life in the past under GM (the plant which has now closed) and they are now left in a deplorable state of affairs. Better education, training and re-skilling would restore their confidence and the “can-do” attitude of the American spirit.

6. Piles of broken glass in the Chinese plant and the uncontrolled shattering of glass in the Ohio plant would suggest opportunities for process improvement. Such process improvements in glass parts making could also improve the speed and efficiency in handling of glass by robots in their future applications.

7. The emphasis in labor relations has been on the traditional issues of Union Vs. Non-Union fights, “keep the union out” mindset of the management and Chinese owners, “give me a job and good wages” mindset of the workers without challenging themselves to get better and competitive on their own, “state subsidies to foreign investors is the only way to grow new jobs” mindset of the Govt. and politicians, etc. A more comprehensive approach with System Thinking and Transformational Skills may be the real need from all sides? https://stimsinstitute.com/2015/09/10/career-strategies-for-success-it-is-a-game-plan-using-system-thinking-and-transformational-skills/

Sadly the film American Factory does not delve into any of the above issues and hence leaves a dramatic presentation that merely perpetuates the apprehension and anxieties of the public at large! :-( 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuyao The company formed a joint venture with Saint-Gobain in 1996 with the French firm’s 51 percent stake valued at $15.3 million. Three years later, Cao bought the stake back for $30 million.[6] Fuyao Glass America Inc.[edit]In 2013, Fuyao began looking at establishing a factory presence in the United States, considering several sites in Ohio and Michigan before deciding on the former General Motors Moraine Assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio.[7] Its initial commitment to the factory, which was made public in January 2014, was to buy 1.4 million square feet of the plant from Industrial Realty Group and invest $240 million into an auto glass production facility, which would create 800 jobs.[7] In 2014, it bought a float glass plant in Mount Zion, Illinois. In 2016, it announced an additional $131 million investment to add additional after-market glass lines at the plant, bringing it to 24 production lines. In exchange it received $6.6 million in incentives from JobsOhio. By then, the company planned to produce enough auto glass for 4 million to 5 million automobiles a year,[8] taking advantage of contraction in the U.S. auto market during the Great Recession.[9] By the time the plant entered full-scale production in October 2016, the company had invested $1 billion in the U.S. subsidiary, with long-term plans to grow to 5,000 employees in the United States.[10] As of early 2020, Fuyao has opened additional operating facilities in Greenville, South Carolina and Detroit, Michigan.[11

PPG reaches agreement to sell Mt. Zion float glass manufacturing facilityhttp://corporate.ppg.com/Media/Newsroom/2014/PPG-reaches-agreement-to-sell-Mt-Zion-float-glass  PITTSBURGH, July 18, 2014 – PPG Industries (NYSE:PPG) today announced that it has reached a definitive agreement to sell substantially all the assets of its Mt. Zion, Illinois, glass manufacturing facility to automotive glass manufacturer Fuyao Glass America Inc. The Mt. Zion facility currently manufactures glass for use in residential and commercial construction markets. Fuyao plans to rebuild and retrofit the facility’s two production lines to manufacture automotive glass. PPG will continue to operate the plant for up to one year, producing SUNGATE® coated glass and clear glass. The production for these products will eventually be shifted to PPG’s other North American float glass manufacturing sites. The sale of the Mt. Zion facility is consistent with the strategic initiative by PPG’s flat glass business to focus on its higher-technology, coated glass capabilities for residential and commercial construction application. “Glass coatings technology remains the engine of our growth and we plan to make incremental technology investments in our facilities to improve our current capacity for better-performing, low-e glass and to expand our overall technical capabilities for newer, more advanced products,” said Richard Beuke, PPG vice president of flat glass.In regard to Mt. Zion facility, Beuke added, “Fuyao has been PPG’s business partner for 13 years and is a well-respected glass manufacturer and fabricator. We look forward to an ongoing collaborative relationship with Fuyao in North America as a PPG technology licensee. The Mt. Zion facility is ideally suited for their automotive glass mission, given its geographic proximity to major automotive manufacturers and history in automotive glass production. ”PPG’s flat glass business unit manufactures high-performing coated glass, tinted and clear float glass primarily for the residential and commercial segments of the construction industry, as well as other specialty glass markets. The Mt. Zion facility was built in 1959 and converted for float glass production in 1978.

ASME 2020 Awards Ceremony

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) held their 2020 Awards Ceremony on Nov. 16, 2020 to recognize outstanding achievement of several professionals in the engineering community. This online celebration included the award of the prestigious Merchant Medal for Manufacturing offered jointly by two professional societies: Society of Manufacturing Engineering (SME) and the ASME presented to Dr. Krishnamoorthy (Subbu) Subramanian, President, STIMS Institute, USA.

https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/society-news/asme-news/dr-krishnamoorthy-s-subramanian-2020-asme-m-eugene-merchant-manufacturing-medal-winner

The video of the entire award ceremony can be seen at : https://youtu.be/ujs9MzVBtYI

Following are few additional images from the ceremony:

Accepting the award, Dr. Subramanian shared the following brief remarks:

My sincere thanks to ASME and SME. I am very grateful to the awards committee, chairman as well as all my nominators; especially Prof. Jawahir from University of Kentucky.

The guidance from my parents and grandparents was the motivation in my early years. Thanks to Prof. Nathan Cook at MIT, Dr. Eugene Merchant and many others for my academic depth and professional approach

Special thanks to my family and especially my wife Dr. Durga Subramanian. As a fellow industry professional, as a Chemist, as a mother and grandmother, Durga equally deserves this award!

This award is also recognition of the work of a large body of people from Industry and academia from all across the globe. My sincere thanks to all of them.

In the field of Manufacturing, there are countless Physical Processes like Grinding, Machining, etc. They grow their roots through research; become visible through industrial use and yield fruits measured as commercial results. Merchant medal is an honor that recognizes the contribution to this combination of efforts and outcome in manufacturing. I am genuinely honored and humbled to receive this recognition and the award. Thank you very much!