Humans & Machines in Harmony


We know technology is advancing at a rate, but I have become aware of a great example. There was a recent article in The Economist around how a German online retailer OTTO, who are utilising AI effectively to improve the performance of their business and customer service. OTTO used technology developed by Blue Yonder and a deep learning algorithm originally developed at CERN for particle physics experiments, to analyse 3bn previous transactions with 200 variables. These included previous site searches. Armed with this capability they were able to purchase over 200,000 items, predicting what will be sold in  30 days with a 90% accuracy.

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Lean in Retail


I stumbled across a great article about Aldi and their continued pursuit of Lean. The article makes it very clear that Lean is not just for manufacturing, and although Lean may have lost some profile over the last few years it still very much has resonance today. Some say that Aldi’s current success is down to its models and market positioning. That is true, but how did they get to that position ? Lean thinking and principles which are referenced in the article allow businesses to get to a competitive market position. All too often Lean is just perceived about removing unnecessary waste and cost, but effective Lean drives flexibility, adaptability and agility. These are the key elements that allow businesses to have a strong market position. The article also references how Aldi have engaged their workforce, to increase their Lean bandwidth and achieve even more. Aldi also multi-skill their workforce to allow maximum flexibility, alleviate boredom and improve overall effectiveness. This is exactly what the manufacturing sector have been doing for a couple of decades. With the pressure on the retail sector, and the relentless competition, one may think that the staff remuneration would be low. However, Aldi also pay above the average sector pay. These savings  allow Aldi to pay above market rates, and entice the most capable staff. They have an empowered and a motivated workforce to deliver on future improvements, and cost savings. The improvement cycle repeats itself. They will also be taking waste out of the all their administrative processes . A Lean mindset drives the removal of waste everywhere.

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Connecting “Waste”

I thought that this picture is an excellent illustration of how different operational wastes are “Linked” together. The four key physical wastes in any operating business are “Process”, “Energy”, “Effluent”, and “Transactions”. These are not mutually exclusive. If you have process waste, i.e. inefficiencies in making your product, you are likely to be using more energy than you absolutely need, and creating unnecessary effluent in the form of defects or recycles.

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Artificial Intelligence

There was an interesting point of view from Daniel Dennett (Philosopher) on BBC Newsnight last night on AI. Computers are getting faster and smarter, but are we truly building AI, with more clever algorithms. His view was that we are creating “Super Tools”, which is an interesting perspective. With all the buzz around IOTIOE at the moment, we are getting more efficient and better connected.

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Taking “Waste” out of Administrative Processes

There has considerable focus on “Manufacturing” processes in the context of “Lean” & “Waste”. When people have time to think, they realise there is real “Waste” in all of the administrative processes. This is sometimes forgotten. If we start to think about some of the huge financial decisions that are taken daily by governments and corporations, these all have complex processes and analytics that sit behind them. The impacts of failures or defects can run into billions.

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Some interesting reflections on the use of “Diesel” in recent debates. Considerable negative press around particulates and NOx. There is no doubt that fumes and particulates can harm the lungs, and that we still do not fully understand the impacts of these. However, diesel engines are very efficient and power the worlds transportation, whether it be marine engines, train traction units or HGV. The unit fuel consumption per item delivered is considerably lower than that of petrol, even for road transportation. Because diesel involves less refining, the production costs vs. petrol are also lower, and thus the impact on the carbon footprint. The point here is to look at diesel from a “Lean” perspective, i.e the value add quotient.

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Starting the New Year in the correct Frame of Mind



We all do the “Talk” of de-cluttering at this time of year, but it is time to do the “Walk”. It is easy to just throw a few things out, but that does not set us up for success. We need to to go beyond that, and to use Lean Terminology, follow a 5S approach, where we don’t just “Sort” the stuff we don’t need, we follow-up by “Setting In Order” , “Shining”, “Standardising” & “Sustaining”. Easily said but not so easily done. Most people people or organisations stumble at the “Shine” part because they believe the work is done, and they have not sustained the earlier stages. However with the Aspire approach, we ask people to standardise and sustain, each of the first 3 stages before moving on, which leads to a long term effective outcome. This is a state of mind as well as an approach. This is not about housekeeping but discipline and continuous improvement


Lean & Climate Change

I recently attended a webinar run by the I.Chem.E. on and the following climate change initiatives post COP22. It finally looks like the engineering institutions are coming together as one, and working with politicians, technologists. This is a critical step in the process as engineers make it happen.

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Leaning The Design Process

An interesting article in The Chemical Engineer magazine by Paul Bonner and Theodore Faiella about integrating the approach for Process Design and Plant Aotomation. With large scale chemical plant design , construction commissioning and start-up there are a number of design iterations. Typically the client (or manufacturer) comes up with the design intent from their own library or from a process licensor. A critical part of the design is the process control strategy.

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