The Internet of Things: Automation and Personalization
Personalization, as used here is the ability for one’s self-expression to be reflected or expressed in those things that belong to us. Increasingly over time and through the apparent human demand of more things for less money, suppliers have moved to automation and in doing so, they removed the relationship between the personal expression of the builder and the personalization needs of the buyer. This separation has also removed the intrinsic value generated in the exchange between people to things that now have little or no intrinsic or lasting value.
“We have only scratched the surface of cell manufacturing. It is the communication tools of the internet that can really explode this methodology”
In this article, we are going to look at how automation can return personalization in our products that have within it the possibility of providing a lasting solution to the unstainable nature of our throw-away culture.
Henry Ford satisfied the desire of people for rapid accessible transportation when he automated his car manufacturing processes that reduced the cost/price and enabled the average American to own a new car that, until then was only available to a wealthy few.
It was the new models, shapes, and colors provided by General Motors and others that led to Mr. Ford’s reluctant adoption of this same approach of appealing to people’s need for self-expression beyond the utility value of transportation.
The linear production processes developed by Ford have evolved to become the default approach to automation here in the US and across the world. The result is that the individual expression in a personalized item is pretty much a thing of the past unless one has an abundance of money, then personalization can return to the equation as in custom-made luxury yachts.
Ford discovered at his 600 acre River Rouge Complex, although perhaps not expressed in these terms, that it is the nature of linear production to rob people of personal value and individual self-expression in their work at the level of creating and giving. It also holds that the value and satisfaction of the recipient of that work is equally diminished. Indeed, it is this value transfer between people that establishes the brand view as with Ford and other brands, and one can experience that first hand at the people interface provided by the dealerships.
This demand for lower prices and convenience provided through automation where the expression of giving and receiving of people is separated, will lead us inevitably ever further toward a valueless throw-away convenience driven society.
In the desire to have self-expression present in things in our lives, we often adopt brand alignments for it is the advertised and publicly agreed expression of a brand that best aligns with our self-expression. It has attach value and it is interesting that the value/price is publicly agreed to be high.
In contrast and in attempt to combat this demise of human spirit, some U.S. companies have adopted the Volvo led strategy of cell manufacturing.
Cell manufacturing is where individuals are arranged in work teams and assigned the responsibility for the production of a finished product. On some occasions, they are directly for and in communication with a specific, known customer. This manufacturing methodology provides significant personal satisfaction for employees and has many advantages for the employer including significantly lower levels of inventory, higher levels of efficiency and finished product quality. Yet with these clear and proven benefits, the methodology has not seen wide spread adoption in the manufacturing world.
Many manufacturing processes have been developed that are well suited to conveyors and linear production. These processes inevitably lead to overstocking with large amounts of capital tied up in inventory in the manufacturer’s and re-seller’s warehouse. So the motivation down the sales chain is now to “move the stuff” which requires promotion, advertising, and discounts to be sold.
A shopper experiencing this motivation is easily befuddled in the attempt to establish value from what is in on the shelf needing to be sold, and the desires and aspirations that are at the core of personal choice.
The value exchange is in the satisfaction and here this is usually limited to, “I got a bargain” and therefore is very short lived. If however, the bargain is in the purchase of a branded product to which I can relate, the value and hence satisfaction is far greater and thus its life expectancy is far longer
We might hear it argued that our particular product and production process does not lend itself to cell manufacturing. I would contest that we have built production processes based on the utilitarian view of our past products and the past is embedded in a desire for production not a desire for value for people. It is not bad, it is just so.
I am of the view that we have only scratched the surface of cell manufacturing and it is the communication tools of the internet that can really explode this methodology into the usual norms of how manufacturers approach the building of their products to deliver on the value and satisfaction requirements of buyers.
The internet has the ability to connect customers to manufacturer’s products at the very heart of production—at the level of the cell where personalization and the connection of people can occur. Imagine a Gucci purse with your name on it coming from the factory directly to you with the colors and fastenings that you chose online. The manufacturer would be thrilled because he is building a product that has already been sold. People building that product would experience an enhanced level of satisfaction knowing that the purse is for customer Jane, and Jane would know that her personalized Gucci bag was being made that very day. The complete transaction would provide a significantly superior level of satisfaction and value for everyone involved. The life of Jane’s purse will be three or four times that of the same bag produced without the connection between people.
However, can personalized things be built at a price most people can afford? As a master with 40 years of automation and product design, it is a very resounding, “YES!!” It is the automation of process that enables this through robots that are at the hands of a team of people that connect product to people. The doing or not doing of the physical work is not the concern; it is the importance of connecting people with each other that makes the difference and creates value.
I hope this article has been of value and has perhaps left an invitation here for manufacturers like you to take a fresh look at the way you do things, to bring forth a new desire to create lasting value and satisfaction for products, employees, and customers. To take valuable technologies that have been developed over perhaps a hundred or more years and reengineer them into cells to provide new lasting sustainable products and processes that foster relationships between the people that build and people that buy, producing intrinsically valuable things that can last a life time.