Composability is the key to a sustainable future for manufacturing
By Natan Linder and Erik Mirandette
Anyone who has walked through a factory could tell you that things are complicated. And that’s an understatement. Manufacturing, almost by definition, presents variable inputs, unpredictability, and non-linear outcomes – both at the macro level, the global supply chain, and within the four walls of each manufacturing operation.
It is a complex and dynamic system.
The complexity of this system is perhaps most clearly seen when you encounter a problem – any problem. As a simple example, imagine you have 10 machines. What happens to production when one in 10 machines breaks down? It certainly doesn’t reduce your production to 90% instead of 100. With people, machines and automated processes all collaborating towards the production goal, the impact is largely unpredictable. (And that regardless of the cause of the failure. Maybe someone cut a power cord.)
The adaptive and dynamic nature of the system is visible in the bustle of operations. Simply put: when something happens, someone responds. It is necessary to change behavior as conditions change.
Whichever material you turn into which product, manufacturing cannot escape its complex and dynamic nature.
Manufacturing operations managers have long been encouraged to deal with this nature by using automation to minimize the variability that humans add to the system. Well Named. Global labor shortages, supply chain volatility and increased risk exposure mean manufacturers often need process automation. Yet the promise of automation has largely not been delivered.
Automation is not so good at making decisions when it encounters new problems. People, on the other hand, can naturally react and learn as conditions change, making the problem of increasing complexity one that people are uniquely positioned to solve.
The nature of the system requires an adaptable approach to problem solving. That’s what it’s about. This is where composability comes in.
Composability is a system design principle that allows individuals to satisfy specific user needs at specific times. To make this happen in manufacturing, suppliers must be committed to designing tools for the people closest to a given problem, increasing their capabilities, enabling continuous improvement and fueling transformation towards sustainability. company.
Top-down approaches don’t work for corporate sustainability
Manufacturing operations are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of top-down control, again, due to the nature of the system: each manufacturing operation, and each station within it, is unique. The unique function of a station, and the unique skills and perspectives of the person using it, are not universal, nor are their requirements. Forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to unique challenges is exactly why top-down solutions fail.
It’s not like you can get it right if you just choose the right tool. It is that the principle of these implementations is defective. The idea that any third party could suddenly solve all your problems, forever, and then you never have to change again is wrong. When has this ever been true?
And yet, manufacturers have long accepted this top-down premise from vendors: that you have to conform your operation to fit the data model and the demands of the technology, and that making changes (adapting) will mess things up.
Even as those on the front lines “accept” the tool’s restrictions, new problems arise. (Imagine that!)
And because the system is dynamic, people keep solving these new problems with other systems, like pen and paper. They can embed a chart in a Powerpoint and share it a few days later. They can use lights as error signals.
However they circumvent a problem and share information, they are the ones doing the work to solve the problem. Composable technology will allow this; Traditional MES and manufacturing operations management (MOM) implementations will push into workarounds and other silos.
And this is not the only fundamental flaw of such an implementation.
The idea that a single application can solve all the problems of a complex system is not wrong in itself. For example, traffic is a complex and dynamic system, and Google Maps has found a way for individuals to solve their specific traffic problem using a single app. In this case, we’re all optimizing towards the same outcome: “I’m going from A to B and I need the fastest, shortest, and cheapest way to get there.” And we all contribute the same data, adding comments to refine the solution. This is not the case in manufacturing operations.
So you need more than one app. For this, manufacturers can turn to point solutions. But putting these point solutions together brings additional complexity and silos; information cannot be shared as needed (horizontally) and you always adapt to the technology’s data model and allowed integrations.
The Bottom Line: People are smart. If you put in place a system that they must strictly adhere to, instead of one that accommodates them, then they will find a workaround to get the job done (even if it’s old technology) for the accommodate.
In other words, they will solve problems with the tools at their disposal. They will improve, but cannot iterate. As the needs of the operation change, the tools can also evolve.
That’s why you have to work from the bottom up.
Composability as a bottom-up approach to creating sustainability
Manufacturing, as an industry, is quite familiar with constant change. But very often, individual operations get bogged down in static technology and processes. Whether daily or long-term, operators find themselves wishing for a way to be and stay adaptable.
Composable business is the answer. Composability, by nature, means people are closer to both the solutions and the information they need. Because they are already closest to the problem, doesn’t that make sense?
A bottom-up approach (from human to application) creates real-time resilience. In a world where all industry leaders know uncertainty intimately, we all know how much this resilience is needed. Here’s how it works:
When you deploy an architecture that supports composability, the end point of deployment is the same as the end point of deploying a monolithic, immutable solution: identify and eliminate inefficiency and waste. But with composability, you don’t expect the moment of the big bang, where a switch is flipped.
Instead, by enabling horizontal information sharing and bottom-up application development, you get a emerging manufacturing system that fuels continuous improvement within your specific and unique operation. It’s true: composability means you can always improve.
Rather than set it and forget it, composability encourages the opposite. It provides your operators with a set of tools that can solve their problems today and tomorrow. This gives them the opportunity to work better and more efficiently. It gives them the information they need to do so. And it allows them to pass this information on to their colleagues, so that they too can optimize, albeit towards varied results.
Composability as a commitment
Now that we’ve said it, it may seem like a simple reality: you need to empower your employees – all of your employees – if you want to activate your business. And while that’s true, it’s also important to really consider what composability is saying to your operators.
He says people are the most valuable part of your operation. He says you appreciate their ability to increase the system, so you appreciate your ability to help the system increase them.
The team at Tulip, a frontline operations platform, where I lead Product and Ecosystem, believes that a human-centric, composable approach is a requirement for manufacturing operations in order to scale and stay competitive. But beyond that, we believe that the democratization of information and application development is basically a good thing.
When you express this same belief by allowing your employees to compose, the possible rewards are, without exaggeration, limitless.
This article was written by Erik Mirandette, product and ecosystem manager at Tulip Interfaces.