Technical Problem Solving at Automation

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Technical Problem Solving at Automation

1. Problem Solving Systems

In researching different Problem Solving “systems” I find that I need to expand my vocabulary.  First of all, “systems” is probably not the right word.  Consider the following taken from a Google search:

  • 8D – a problem solving approach using the 8 Disciplines
  • 5 Why – an iterative interrogative technique 
  • Is – is not — methodology for bounding a problem and understanding scope
  • Six Sigma – process improvement statistical analysis methodology
  • Lean — systematic method for waste minimization
  • DMAIC — data-driven improvement cycle used for improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes

I could go on; I see “methodology” twice above, so based on plurality, let’s go with that terminology.

My own experience with formal problem solving methodologies goes back about 20 years; I’ve received formal training in every one of the above-mentioned methodologies.  They are all really good methodologies.  The methodologies all work.  They are more than the sum of the high powered vocabulary used to describe them.  But for all their value, and all the hours of training, building catapults, muda walks, kaizen teams, PFMEAs, root-causing and red X analysis, we still struggle to nail down the C (Control) of DMAIC and the 5th S (Sustain) of Lean.

2. So what is the problem?

SOTP logo

The problem with Problem Solving Methodologies seems to be related to the urgency of the relentless pursuit of results that every manufacturer is more or less obsessed with.  Problem solving usually starts with analysis, data, root-causing, brainstorming; but the main focus quickly shifts to the implementation of the strategy.  It reminds me of jetliners: taxiing to the runway sets the stage for the main event, the high adrenaline takeoff (followed by hours of boredom at 35,000 feet).  In the world of problem solving, getting from the gate to 35,000 feet is where it’s at, and once the team is climbing through the clouds, the urgency of the next problem-solving exercise becomes paramount to the organization.  We wouldn’t want those fighter pilot engineers and change agents wasting their time cruising on auto-pilot.  So on to the next problem we charge, leaving SUSTAIN to sustain itself.

The reality is that sustaining improvements requires a different organizational mindset than the application of the first 90% or so of the Problem Solving Methodology.    It requires staying power, trench warfare mentality, patience, longsuffering, and a focus on the mundane.  It’s about unsensational and usually unrecognized effort.  It’s about bunting and punting; no home runs, no touchdowns, no awards, no accolades.  The timeline transitions from days and weeks to the Cold War of years and decades.

3. Figuring it out at APC

I wish I could say that Automation has the miracle methodology cure for the problem-solving problem.

But we can offer a couple of thoughts on hopeful developments….

  • Technology
    • Automation/Robotics are really good at the mundane of repetitive. As equipment suppliers leverage digital controls into their hardware, and as automated systems increasingly support human activities on the shop floor, sustaining the gains will be more directly integrated into the entire process, not just the take-off.
    • At APC, we are using platforms like:
      • Dozuki — visual cloud-based real-time work guidance and documentation

  • RJG — scientific molding implementation and control technologyRJG logo


  • Routsis logoRoutsis — web-based self-paced technical training program


  • IQMS logoIQMS — advanced real-time ERP and manufacturing execution system


We are discovering that these tools can help us address the “micro-chaos” of day-to-day operations.  Future blog entries will discuss additional exciting details!

  • Motivational Strategies
    • Rewarding unspectacular skills and accomplishments can make a difference. We need to prioritize our understanding of what makes people tick, and we need to be willing to rethink our preconceptions about the value different personality types bring to the table.
  • Team Composition – Static vs Dynamic
    • The selection of the typical Problem-Solving Team members has historically focused on the front end of the project. Additionally, Team composition has been static: the same small group is responsible for the entire process.  A flexible, dynamic approach to team membership is needed.  As the needs and pace of the project mature, the composition and responsibilities of the team need to be systematically transitioned.
      • For example, in the DMAIC methodology, team composition should evolve as the project moves from Define and Measure through Analyze and Improve, and eventually to Control.


Progress is elusive.  It would be very interesting to hear what others have experienced, especially success stories!

Ipper Collens

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