Who should be making production decisions?

Is 'empowering operators' a good idea? When does decision making become 'too many cooks in the kitchen?'

12/13/2011


Dear Control Engineering: I was watching the video with Sudipta Bhattacharya about the advantages of leaving decision making to people at the plant level. Somehow I can’t see how that is practical. What kinds of decisions is he talking about?

If you have the impression that he’s suggesting refinery operators adjust output in response to a ticker-tape feed from a commodity market where crude oil futures are being traded, you’re missing the point. He isn’t talking about micromanagement at that kind of level.

On the other hand, if the operators in a given plant are paying attention to what is going on within the company and the larger markets that they serve, they can have a good handle on when it is an opportune time to slow down or shut down for maintenance, as opposed to when it is time to maximize production to take advantage of a favorable market.

His contention is not that plant level people are somehow smarter than management necessarily (although that might be the case depending on who you ask), but that they may be privy to detail that can inform a decision better than someone looking down from 30,000 feet. As Bhattacharya points out, having to go to management to get clearance to take down a unit in a critical situation simply slows down the decision-making process. Well informed plant-level people that have a strong grasp of their objectives and have the kind of business-level information that they need can make such a call more quickly when the situation requires it.

Of course, empowerment requires accountability. Such empowered individuals must be ready and willing to deal with the consequences of their decisions, so some at the plant level may not welcome such responsibility. Answers to these questions will be based on the people involved and the larger corporate culture, so no two situations will be exactly the same. Some companies with strict centralized planning would find this idea horrifying, but such companies sacrifice agility to maintain control.

Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Learn how to create value with re-use; gain productivity with lean automation and connectivity, and optimize panel design and construction.
Go deep: Automation tackles offshore oil challenges; Ethernet advice; Wireless robotics; Product exclusives; Digital edition exclusives
Lost in the gray scale? How to get effective HMIs; Best practices: Integrate old and new wireless systems; Smart software, networks; Service provider certifications
Fixing PID: Part 2: Tweaking controller strategy; Machine safety networks; Salary survey and career advice; Smart I/O architecture; Product exclusives
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Look at the basics of industrial wireless technologies, wireless concepts, wireless standards, and wireless best practices with Daniel E. Capano of Diversified Technical Services Inc.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.