Collaborating on computer

Technology, People Combine Control System Success

June 11, 2020
The right system, and the right software, will lead to positive change.

Manufacturing technology creates the opportunity to change, but as Dr. John Carrier noted in a recent presentation at the LiveWorx virtual event, technology itself isn’t enough to actually bring about the change.

“If we instruct people to make change without addressing the system they’re in, the change in behavior will be limited at best. And if we try to inject technology as the change mechanism, its adoption impact is also going to be limited,” said Carrier, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School. “What we need to do here is enable the people within the system to change their own system, which then leads to a change in their own behavior, creating this positive feedback loop.”

The feedback loop also was critical to Carrier’s presentation on the seven key control concepts presented at LiveWorx, which was presented by PTC. The event featured more than 125 presentations on topics ranging from vertical market solutions for aerospace, automotive, and oil and gas to discussions of augmented reality, the factory of the future and the Industrial Internet of Things. The event drew more than 25,000 registrants. The LiveWorx virtual event is available on-demand at until June 19.

“We’re in the early stage of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, and those who do not adapt to this new technology will fail to survive,” Carrier said. “Unfortunately, some that do also will fail to survive. And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

The driving force for Industry 4.0 may be technology, Carrier added, but the goal is something more fundamental. “Let’s look at what we’re really trying to buy with Industry 4.0. We’re really trying to buy control of our system,” he said. “We need to learn how to match the technology to our system, rather than try to adapt our system to the technology.”

The seven control system concepts that help lead manufacturers to that outcome are:

1. Observability

Tools such sensors, cameras and data visualization tools can assist plant managers in improving their operational vision. “Observability is the ability to detect the state of a system prior to a consequence,” Carrier said. “Technology can actually improve our observability by augmenting our sight.”

2. Controllability

Carrier defined this as the ability to change the current state of the system to reach the desired state, or prevent an undesirable one. “With technology, we could augment or replace our current control elements with superior ones, such as robotics, valves and other types of automation,” he said. “It’s important to have a process for converting these observations into a decision leading to coordinated action.”

3. Response Time

This is the time it takes the system to respond to external demand, such as supply chain disruptions or, for a more timely example, the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re buying survival by buying time to improve our system’s response time as we look to these new technologies,” said Carrier. “Now the easy part is buying the technology, but to realize value from it, a mechanism for improving response time is needed.”

4. Chaos and Stability

One key to reducing chaos in any system is to catch smaller deviations early in the process to keep them from multiplying down the line. “We want to prevent our system from producing unpredictable, catastrophic results,” said Carrier. “Industry 4.0 makes this economically feasible. Prediction by itself has some value, but combining prediction with the real-time ability to observe and reset the state of the system leads to organizational resiliency.”

5. System, Model, Data

“A control system has three elements: process, model and data,” Carrier said. “Process is what happens when we do the work. The model is what we expect to happen, based on the planning. And the data is the difference between what we expected to happen and what did happen. This is also known as negative feedback.”

What keeps many plants unable to actually match the plan to the outcome is the siloed nature of most organizations. “Most companies are organized by function, so that operations responsible for running the process spend most of their time on workarounds to support the daily production,” Carrier said. “The modelers, which include planners, schedulers and forecasters, work in isolation and deliver results that are often out of date, and the IT department is busy spending the next two years building a data link, at which time we may be able to get access to our data. Instead, our technology initiatives must involve all three elements simultaneously in order to transform the organization.

“So the role of technology here is as an enabler,” he added. “The companies that will be successful are the ones that can change their way or working to take advantage of the new technology. Leadership still matters.”

6. Three Types of Control Loops

Carrier cited the three types of control loops:

  • Corrective. Detecting a deviation downstream and adjusting to prevent future deviation (a lagging indicator)
  • Predictive. Detecting a disturbance upstream and intervening before the system deviates (leading indicator)
  • Adaptive. Improving the system so that fewer defects are generated.

The low costs of sensors has opened the doors for greater data collection. “The cost of an industrial platform for collecting massive data sets in real time from products in use around the world and analyzing that information with sophisticated machine learning algorithms, is now available to any organization at very reasonable costs,” Carrier said. “So now it’s possible for any organization to build this adaptive control loop and truly become a learning organization—the primary element of a sustainable company.

7. A Formula for Behavior

Carrier cited the work of Kurt Lewin, founder of the MIT Center for Group Dynamics:

His formula: B = f(P,S)

Postulates that Behavior is a function of People and the Systems in which they find themselves.

Technology is a change agent, Carrier said, but the operational system in which that technology is installed also can be a catalyst for change—if people are given the opportunity to decide how best to implement the technology.

“We want to give people the technology they need to improve their own system,” Carrier said, “which ultimately changes that mysterious concept we all refer to as corporate culture.”

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