Click the PAUSE button. Or, rather, flip the PAUSE switch.
We’re hurtling headlong into digital transformation. This is a good thing. Smart
approaches to manufacturing, energy production and transportation are making us all more efficient. Sensors are being built into or affixed onto just about anything that moves, providing us unprecedented insight on how everything works.
Case-in-point: since attaching a sensor to my dog’s tail, Bingo has increased his wags-per-second (WPS) by 26% in the last quarter alone. He’s a good boy; benchmarking indicates he can be better.
But amid this progress, there are cases of slowing the drive to digital and reconsidering past approaches...revisiting analog elements amid all of the digital bells and whistles.
Consider the recent news about the US Navy’s plan to replace touchscreen throttle and helm controls currently installed in its destroyers with mechanical ones starting in 2020.
The National Transportation Safety Board released an accident report from a 2017 incident in which the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian oil tanker off the coast of Singapore. Navy crew members tried, unsuccessfully, to split throttle and steering control between digital consoles and lost control of their ship, resulting in deaths.
So they’re reverting to mechanical controls.
Now, US Navy assets will continue to be equipped with tons of cutting-edge digital elements. We’re not going to see destroyers propelled by dingy sails, with weathered, wooden ship’s wheels being spun by peg-legged captains with chatty parrots on their shoulders. (Regrettably.)
But in the case of this one component, the operators have spoken and they like the manual method better. The smart approach, in this case at least, is the old one.
That got me wondering about other situations in which clinging to dated (even antiquated) methods makes sense in this digital era. We always talk about retrofitting legacy assets—equipping old machines with modern sensors and HMIs and controllers—but the motivation in doing that is usually to save money by not having to rip-and-replace everything with new (aka expensive) assets.
When is older actually better? Aged wine is more treasured than the new stuff. Vintage collectibles fetch a higher price. Veteran personnel in the industrial space are a prized commodity, particularly as more of them retire and take with them decades of know-how on machine performance.
In some cases, a marriage of analog and digital elements, manual and automated, old and new is best. And in other cases, such as actual marriages between octogenarian billionaires and their decades-younger brides, the results can be comically pathetic. Oftentimes in those marriages, the discussion ultimately turns to pulling the plug, although that’s probably a digital process now, too.