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Feb. 12, 2010
Unbridled Creativity Usually Isn't Very Good for Efficient Machine Design
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

I went to see "Avatar" in its full 3D glory last month.

Relax, I won't try to ignite gravely serious conversation about its political meaning and commentary on our environmental perils. I will say, however, I'm awed by the writers' and directors' and producers' ability to release a wildly successful movie that seems to have infuriated both far-left and far-right ideologues to equal, frothing-at-the-mouth degrees. That's not easy to do.

Viewing the movie intersected with my first read of Dan Hebert's cover story ("Reuse That Automation Know-How," www.ControlDesign.com/reuseknowhow) about relying less on individual automation superstars and more on collective skills and holistic planning to design machines and machine automation based on standards and modular reuse.

I saw a few similarities—none of them involved 10-ft-tall tribal beings with their own built-in network nodes—in the way a cumulative, collective approach can win the day. You need members of the various automation skill tribes, who as a combined force know their own capabilities and their customers' needs backward and forward and don't need divine creative inspiration from one or two stars. You, of course, also need good leadership to pull it all together. At no time do they conclude that overpowering their clients with the brute force of "better" ideas works very well.

Pat Phillips, engineering manager at high-speed assembly machine builder, Haumiller, Elgin, Ill., reminds us in the article that unbridled creativity usually isn't good for efficient machine design. "Creative people will tend by nature to customize 100%, if not coached on the benefits of reusing a percentage of existing designs," he says. His business relies on building custom machinery on a standard, reusable design foundation that more easily accommodates the inclusion of the means to handle unique customer needs.

Dan's article makes it clear that reusability is the highly coveted "unobtanium" for most machine builders. "The goal of automation builders for the past three decades is to be able to draw from a set of standards to create custom solutions," says story participant Chris Lovendahl, sales manager, Concep Machine, Northbrook, Ill. Chris says his new engineers start by learning Concep's engineering practices through projects that need only modification to existing programming. In time, they move on to writing new programming.

The contributions of Pat and Chris are the basis for the first production in a new video series we've rolled out for 2010. We got their thoughts for the article and captured additional comments on tape for the video you'll find at www.ControlDesign.com/reusevideo.

If you or your automation avatar would like to similarly participate in an upcoming video, get in touch. We can't promise 3D just yet.

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