Under Control


When flying at 40,00 feet, terrain becomes as much texture as anything. Only the huge features are discernible...the grand canyon...New York City... irrigation circles. Individual aspects are subsumed as a pattern emerges. This emergent pattern may not be obvious to the sidewalk plodder.

The view from up here is that software is fast becoming the most important part of any manufacturing process. Brand new factories are equipped with software to the tune of between 10 to 20 percent of the total costs. The single largest component of Defense Department's procurement budget is systems software and its subsequent maintenance. Even Detroit's urban transit "people-mover"" has more software/silicon than steel content.

But still we dream on. Meetings in autoland still centered on mechanical aspects of the product. Even though combined revenues of the companies listed in the Manufacturing Systems is Top 50 are larger than those of the entire programmable controller (PLC) industry.

Looking at the list got me wondering about the realist vs. the dreamer and what effect small, innovative companies have on a general market. A dreamer is someone unconnected to reality. By this definition, Einstein, Edison and Ford are realists, while some of today's managers and politicians dream on, hoping we'll eventually regain the past.

The realist is the person who accepts the world for what it is: Continuous change.

I know of a computer model that demonstrates how big change can be introduced into market by means of small differences. Using Visual Basic, a grid of 64 companies was constructed. A random number represents the company size. Turbulence is introduced into the system by changing the quantitative designator of the smallest company, replacing it with another random number. Each of its for neighbors are changed in the same manner.

Eventually, after many cycles, even the largest (strongest) company is affected. Entropy demonstrated within the system proves interesting. There are at first long cycles of stationary (non-movement) changes. Then sudden jumps at other locations in the grid occur. These appear to be cyclic.

Now comes the fun. Even when we temper the changes and populate the grid with large companies, the dynamic characteristics seem somehow immune to minor algorithmic changes in the paradigm. We call this the "Guano Syndrome". What will happen will happen.

A. Strelzoff of Modicon/AEG did the programming. Gotta give credit.

This simulation model seems to parrot the real world. Many of the companies in the Top 50 weren't around even a decade ago. But these small companies with their innovative products are changing the industrial landscape. And change will occur independent of efforts to delay it. To stay competitive we must embrace the viruses of the future. They are the agents of change.

Many of the ideas incorporated in the model came from studies done in biotech and artificial life. Artificial life simulations model the Darwinian process and lead to an understanding of how relationships impact a changing environment. Relationships between predator and prey leave little room for behaviors that respect the individual. Likewise, change in software markets is often unrelated to what the individual companies that make up that market originally intended.

So those often labeled dreamers are actually the realists, and vise versa. Realists seize upon the moment and ignite the fires of revolution. Such a revolution is seen in the Top 50 list, and in plenty of other places, too.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine July 1994 Page 10

Manufacturing Systems Magazine Articles
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