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What is the definition of the Perfect Plant?

Last week at the ASUG fall optimization forum in Nashville, I went out to dinner with several colleagues from another company.  The conversation was pleasant and easy, until he asked me to define the perfect plant in a 30 second elevator pitch. 

First, alittle on my background:  I started in research in the chemical industry in a pilot plant – the pilot plant was sizable with real equipment to mimic a plant environment, and it was the final step before scaleup into a ‘real’ plant.  I enjoyed the experience, so decided to become a process engineer in one of those real plants.  I worked on numerous automation upgrade projects in California, France, Taiwan and other locations.  I worked with PLC’s and data control systems in an attempt to communicate information and plant recipes to the operator on the floor.  From there, my experience led me to plant mgmt, operations, and supply chain, before joining the ranks of SAP in this wonderful industry.  So, I truly grew up in this manufacturing environment and have many real life experiences in this field.

So, when asked about my definition of the perfect plant, I reflected on my experiences and responded:  I want an operator-friendly front end that has the simplicity of an ATM screen, and I want events that trigger alerts based upon exception to the right layer in the organization (ie maintenance mgr, plant mgr, operations mgr) in near-real time.  I want intelligence for my operators, not just streaming data feeds – I know that my talented, 35+ yr operators are retiring rapidly and being replaced with green operators who have a steep learning curve.  I want the ability to view my network of plants regionally and globally and see how they are operating, and then drill-down if I see a problem or have been alerted of a problem.  All of this will enable me to make decisions faster with the intent of providing superior customer service at the lowest possible cost in an extremely safe environment.  It may not be perfect, but if I had these things in place it would be pretty sharp in this age of downsizing where my resources are very limited.

Now, his response was:  the perfect plant is when the customer gets exactly what he/she wants at the best possible service for the lowest possible price.  And I still think that is a complete cop-out.  However, he thought my response was not the right elevator pitch.  And he’s probably right – I don’t think a CEO or COO would be able to relate to the value of my ATM analogy ,  but the intelligence comment might ring true.

The attached link brings you to the mfg/perfect plant roundtable – they may have already addressed this topic, but I haven’t found a definition that rings true to me just yet.  So, I would really appreciate your insight on what is the perfect plant.

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  • Perfect Plant is one where people are under creative tension and go jubiliant after achieving every milestone; where equipment are treated as partners in progress and flow of material and information is the order of the day. Perfect Plant is a treat to the eyes too; is beneficial to all those who contribute to its existence and is one which generates profit and remains profitable under any circumstance.
    • I like the term ‘creative tension’, and I like the idea of animating equipment.  However, calling a manufacturing plant ‘a treat to the eyes’ is alittle too much romance for me…  Your bottom line is correct – driving profitability thru a creative process and one in which equipment is treated as a partner.  Thanks.
  • Good question Ray.

    I’d say that the term Perfect Plant is an aspiration that by definition can never be attained. Pursuing perfection is another matter, since it demands excellence and stimulates innovation.

    As your elevator-pitch tale outlines, you cannot please all the people….

    The pursuit enables IT providers to innovate, using the most up-to-date information available and streamline processes to maximize resources while minimizing costs. In the course of this, you need to make best use of all assets, energy, and labor resources, while innovating to ensure quality and compliance.

    And compliance itself is not enough, since it is a reactive stance. It needs to be coupled with aspirational goals that stretch beyond existing governmental, social, and legal requirements.

    Add to the mix, the need to maintain a healthy and inspirational workplace for employees to extend beyond mere containment of industrial relations. For an enterprise to truly prosper, the conditions and environment must attract the top talent, so that replenishment of labor is seldom or never an issue.

    So if energy, assets, emissions & waste, quality, and human capital are managed successfully, using an integrated and efficient IT infrastructure, there is always room for improvement.

    On top of this, in light of the importance of global reputations and image, superior communications must ensure that the message is always available to the marketplace. Paraphrasing the old Caeser’s wife adage applies: It’s not good enough just to do the right thing, but also to be seen to do the right thing.

    In this sense, I reckon both you and the colleague are correct in showing the way: the colleague in pointing out one goal in this pursuit; and you in highlighting one method to support the goal.

    • So now we are treating the pursuit of perfection like the pursuit of the Holy Grail?  Monty Python fans will have a field day with this one. 

      Having the stretch goals is critical for any organization.  In this case, the journey of the perfect plant is a goal in itself and it involves many collaborative components.  The journey brings along its own rewards as well.

  • I’m not too sure if you’re aware of the book “In Persuit of The Perfect Plant” with TCS as a co-sponsor and contributor?  While what’s been said could very well apply, I’d like to contribute something which I feel sums it up succinctly at a high level.

    The goal of The Perfect Plant is for maximum, sustainable Return On Investment while ensuring the client’s requirements are met.

    How one goes about achieving this, is dependent on individual case by case scenarios.  But this would remain as the common thread throughout.

    • Yes, I am aware of the book.  Again, the challenge at dinner was to generate the 30 second elevator pitch to a CEO about why he/she should care about the pursuit of the perfect plant.  I still think that it needs to be more tangible than maximizing ROI – that is just alittle too obvious to me.  Maximizing ROI has always been a goal of all businesses.  I think there are stronger cultural implications as to how the world changes in manufacturing when you are truly on the perfect plant journey.