Bridging the Gap Between Legacy Methods and Innovation

By MTI Admin posted 10-17-2019 10:25 AM


By Peggy Salvatore

We are firmly in the grip of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (see upcoming topic at the Global Solutions Symposium 2020). Today, emerging opportunities include elements of artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing taking us well beyond the information age to the age of analytics where data becomes actionable intelligence. During this transition, as in all transitions, a few early adopters are champing at the bit to bring the world up the curve while the majority looks on cautiously. You might even say the majority are wary, if not downright skeptical, of what is coming that will disrupt the world as they have known it.

This skepticism is for good reason, of course.

Caution is a critical success factor in industries like chemical processing and manufacturing where one poor decision or missed target can create a hazardous, dangerous or even deadly condition. While caution is your friend, experimentation is another good buddy along the road to progress and success. After all, as many industries have proven in just the last hundred years (see buggy whip makers), if you elect to stay the same in a world where technology is forging ahead, you elect to become irrelevant.

For people reading this blog, your personal curiosity and your companies’ imperatives have firmly embraced the future. As a result, the future will be profitable and advance the human condition due to the research and new discoveries in materials and manufacturing processes that are coming out of your hard work. During this transition, workers will be asked to bridge the widening gap between the way things were done and the way things will be done. As in many things, humans often need time and encouragement to make change.

In the interest of closing that gap, let’s look at three ways that important existing knowledge can be preserved and transferred while leaving open enough space for new knowledge to take its place and advance the organization.

  1. Know your facilities and identify the people who know the history of your facilities, materials, processes. Capture their knowledge, blueprints, and material/skill source suppliers to retain critical information.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open between the C-suite and the plants. Strategy and execution must be connected, and too often strategies fail for poor or no execution. Conservatively, strategy fails 80% of the time. Make sure the planners know the employees.
  3. Culture really is king. A learning organization will outperform one that is firmly committed to “the way we do things around here.”

Manufacturing Will Lead the Global Economy

A January 2019 McKinsey & Co. consulting firm study found that while manufacturing accounts for 16% of the global GDP, manufacturers account for 64% of global research and development spending. The researchers concluded that the high expenditure in R&D bodes well for the future of manufacturing, as it is projected to lead the world’s next economic boom. The next wave of innovation and prosperity is in manufacturing, and that is good news for those in this sector.

Clear leaders in the next wave of progress embodied a few notable characteristics including the willingness to collaborate outside the walls of the organization to reach into other companies, governments and academia. And where will this collaboration come from? Successful companies of the future overcome old -paradigm competitive urges in the spirit of collaborating with partners up and down the supply chain, vertically and horizontally, by upskilling the workforce across all ages and levels of the organization, and, as the McKinsey report stated, “managing changes from the shop floor throughout the value chain.”

Those who think knowledge transfer and skills acquisition are limited to a defined training program are invited to challenge their notions. Learning is a mindset, and knowledge transfer is happening more often on a need-to-know, ongoing basis. Success and profitability can be found in the way that an organization acknowledges what it needs to know and is responsive to the needs of its ever-changing customers. In the industry served by the professionals of the Materials Technical Institute, you are already accustomed to staying at the forefront of the latest knowledge. It’s a short gap to close to ensure that legacy knowledge is preserved and incorporated into upskilling existing workers and informing new ones.

Staying successful means that the knowledge of the way things were done is preserved so that existing plants can extend their useful life, processes required by certain customers are continued so you can serve them as long as they need your inputs, and professionals continually update best practices to meet the needs of the future.

Peggy Salvatore is the author of Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, C&C Press, and a series of books on finding and working with subject matter experts. She will be a presenter at Materials Technology Institute’s Global Solutions Symposium 2020 on knowledge management practices.