Co-Founder, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
Manufacturing has been around for a long time. From the time early humans picked up a sharp rock or stick and grasped the concept of a tool, we have had to consider how to make things to survive and thrive.
Manufacturing is simply the process of converting something into something else of greater use/value. Although the methods and materials we use have, and will continue to evolve, the requirement to produce physical things will never go away and the need is ever increasing. But there seems to be endless confusion about what manufacturing is.
So why then if manufacturing is a part of our survival, have we become content to be so vague in our understanding of it? On a global scale it does make sense to trade with other nations for different aspects of manufacturing, but this does not relieve us of our responsibility to maintain our manufacturing knowledge and innovation. To do so is to cut ourselves off from opportunity.
Confusion caused by disconnected points of view
There’s a lot of terminology out there: Industry 4.0, Advanced Manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing, IoT, Digital Transformation in Manufacturing, Technology Adoption for Manufacturing, etc. The confusion comes as each of these approaches to manufacturing splinter the focus into separate solutions bringing with it contradictions and generalizations. The resulting confusion translates into lost productivity and lost opportunity, for individual firms and for Canada.
If we focus on individual tools as universally applicable, we gloss over the opportunity to understand the true operational challenges facing the majority of Canadian manufacturers, who happen to be manufacturing start-ups and small and medium enterprises, at a macro level. There is no substitute for going out and listening to folks at individual firms who can tell us those things which are not written down, unlocking the experience and tacit knowledge that lives in individuals, and individual firms, which can then develop into new knowledge for innovation collaboratively. This cannot be done in isolation, or through any kind of automated method.
Manufacturing is more than factories and folks in coveralls
There are many firms who produce physical products (in some cases the physical products are simply a device to deploy software as a core product) who vehemently reject any association with “manufacturing” in favour of being “tech” or “IoT” (Internet of Things, which from a purely manufacturing point of view is simply any manufactured product with connectivity). In doing so, they set down a path of reinventing the wheel with the belief that their firm or product is unique, and they disconnect themselves from over a century of knowledge advancement around how to produce things effectively, and competitively. All the while, time to market is extended, as is cost and risk. While not the sole cause, this is a major contributor to Canada’s decline in productivity on the global stage compared to other nations.
It’s a little like watching someone starve while they sit in front of a feast.
To be clear, this is not the fault of “tech” or “IoT”! My belief is that it’s the fault of all of us who call ourselves professionals in manufacturing.
Manufacturing is our best kept secret
Canada has a strong manufacturing sector and in fact, is exceptionally good at manufacturing and product development. It’s a massive part of our economy. However, misinformation runs rampant and we hear myths like “You can’t develop product in Canada”, “Canada can’t produce products economically” and “manufacturing is dead” which is frankly, garbage. As manufacturing splinters itself into the categories mentioned above, we miss the forest for the trees.
Ultimately the decision of where to produce is a data-based equation specific to each product and there is no one-size fits all answer. But many products can be developed right here, quickly and economically, regardless of where they are ultimately produced, and this has been demonstrated time and again by many firms. For the most part however many of us in manufacturing are guilty of saying “we’re too busy getting the job done to talk about it”. We really need to shift that perspective.
Collaboration is key
Our friends in tech have an approach that we should definitely learn from. Many tech folks regularly share information, articles, celebrations, etc. through LinkedIn and other social media outlets. While it may seem time consuming, it does demonstrate a different approach – let’s share knowledge, let’s collaborate, and let’s solve common problems together so we can focus our individual innovation effort on the things that make us different and competitive. While many firms divorce themselves from being “manufacturers” and therefore from manufacturing knowledge, Canadian manufacturing itself hasn’t adopted the same external collaborative philosophy common to tech and common to manufacturing in other nations, and so we also sit and starve at a table full of food.
I’m as guilty as anyone. But because of that, I know that for any firm which produces a physical product – any physical product - there is a definite path to break through the fog.
Manufacturing is strategic, not transactional
If your firm generates revenue from a physical product, then your manufacturing is the engine that enables your firm to deliver the value your customer will pay for. Often, it’s viewed as just the opposite, as an afterthought or as transactional activity. The reality is how well you manufacture will decide how well your firm will survive. Supply Chain is the connective tissue from your customer’s customer to your supplier’s supplier. But manufacturing is the one element of overall Supply Chain that must be supported by the whole organization, and in turn it supports the organization itself. Manufacturing by its nature can multiply value (or waste if managed poorly), so its worth placing it as front and centre if your business relies on physical product to make money.
There is tremendous opportunity!
Canada sits on the edge of massive opportunity! The connectedness of our modern world affords opportunities to re-imagine manufacturing. Specifically, Canada is very well positioned to be a global leader in the manufacture of low volume, high value/complexity products. Think MedTech, DeepTech, Machinery, Automation Equipment, and virtually any other product where the volume will not be that of consumer goods, but precision as well as reliability is critical. This is Canada’s future, and its ours to lose!
From my point of view, here’s how we can collectively improve Canada’s productivity from the grass-roots on up, and get past manufacturing’s identity crisis:
1) Seek to understand your own firm and your own business case
Applying a system thinking approach to your firm’s challenges will separate symptoms from root cause problems if applied horizontally across all functions and not localized within one department. Understanding how to select the right data to base decisions on is key, since too much data (and over-complexity) can be as problematic as none at all.
2) Seek to understand manufacturing beyond your firm, for better context
A common truth around all of these manufacturing approaches is that they all have value, but none of them can solve all problems for all firms (nor should they). Its up to each firm to acquire knowledge specific to their manufacturing first in order to identify the right tools and then know how to apply them effectively. Application is key.
3) Finally, collaborate outside of your firm.
Both your competitors and your colleagues in manufacturing will face common operational challenges. It is a waste of money and worse, a waste of time for firms to work separately to find solutions to common challenges when they could leverage knowledge across industries to solve them. Instead, grow your involvement and awareness of your own ecosystem, who the players are and ways to work together for common benefit which will increase knowledge development, and innovation. This will increase the time and resources you have to apply internally to those things that differentiate your firm from others – your competitive advantage.
Canada’s manufacturing can have a bright future, and we have all we need today to get there if we collaborate under a system thinking mindset. Who’s in?
Electrical Design Specialist, Berlin KraftWorks Inc.
I have been designing electronic hardware for most of my 25 years of professional life including FPGAs, controllers, and processors. Debugging electronic circuits and performing root cause analysis can be a challenge depending on the symptoms of the circuit, the device, or the system. It can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Where do you start?
I personally do not believe Universities spend much (if any) time on this subject. And since younger and less experienced Engineers are no longer buddied up with experienced Engineers, they often need to figure this out for themselves. I hope this article may help by providing some possible strategies on how to zero in on root causes. Debugging takes experience, instinct, and practice. Some issues are easier to spot than others.
Document the analysis. It makes it easier to follow a plan for getting to the root cause. Sometimes it is necessary to follow possible root causes and they do not pan out to be the root cause; having this written down can help with making better choices on next steps. I define possible root causes as an interim step to explain the symptom(s) I am observing. They may or may not be the actual root cause.
It is often necessary to gain access to signals and power that may be buried in the PCB. Especially today it becomes more and more difficult to access pins as less and less copper is exposed. Allow for some debugging features in your design even if it means you connect some pads to unused pins that signals can be routed to via FPGA or processor fabric. If necessary, you may need to sacrifice one or more circuit boards to scratch solder resist away, cut traces, or solder wires to nets so you can observe them. Some creativity may be required.
I recently had a situation where some boards were reset by a micro during power-up (brown out). I was quickly able to identify it was a power dip issue caused by a combination of low impedance, high capacitance, and a DCDC converter current limit going into a semi shutdown state during over-current events. The time of the reset, the power dip, and enabling the supply all coincided. The root cause in the end was a power switch used to power up a portion of the supply for the purpose of power sequencing. The fix was finding a different switch with the same footprint, but with a slower soft start (10x). Using some creative soldering, I was able to prove root cause by putting a series power resistor into the switch path and measure the current and voltage dip across that resistor.
Study the Symptom
To find the cause we need to first get a better understanding of the symptom.
Follow the Symptom
Sometimes it is necessary to follow the symptom to the next level, meaning that especially system level issues symptoms may be caused by a series of events purposefully designed for the system, but triggered in the wrong way. Understanding these mechanisms and finding the trigger is necessary to determine and zero in on possible root causes.
Chasing a Possible Root Cause
There are a number of generic steps that can be taken to verify possible root causes. If at any of these steps you find a correlation to the symptom, follow the trail.
Verifying the Root Cause
The importance of this step should not be underestimated. It is vital proof the root cause has been found.
I wish you great success in debugging and root cause analysis. Make sure you use the right tools for the job. Too many times I have seen people use inadequate tools and missed the obvious root cause. This way, problems propagated into different designs and were left undetected for many months or even years.
This article was originally published on HaraldSiefkan.com and has been reposted here with permission.