Dave’s Desk

From Dave’s Desk

The recent article titled “Is automation costing jobs” by the SAIMC CEO, Mr Johan Maartens lead me to the subject of this month’s Daves Desk.

My road trip to Zimbabwe and more importantly the Beit Bridge Border crossing got me thinking about “automation” and how important it is to understand the value of any project or process being automated, let me expand.

Dave EE
Dave's Desk 2

We arrived at the brand-new Border Post, and a beautiful set of buildings (when compared to the shocking SA side), welcomed us. Huge electronic boards showing car number plates allowed to enter Zimbabwe lead me to think that the newly implemented automation process was going to make this a pleasant exercise. “Wow,” I thought as I entered the new concourse. Unfortunately, my elation stopped right there. The crossing process failed dismally for a few simple reasons. Clearly whoever the consultants were or what country had come up with the idea for the building had missed the point of the automation completely and this often applies to standard industrial automation as well.

  1. It all started with us being told, we need to fill in the E-TIP (web-based Temporary Import Permit). As the website said to “make the entry easy and shorten the time at the border post”. This by itself was so badly designed and coded that it took us literally 3 hours to complete. Again, bad thought and execution.
  2. It turned out that the E-TIP wasn’t working and everyone crossing into Zimbabwe had to have the officials redo and recapture everything manually!! Worse still was the fact that there was only 1 person on duty the entire time – 3,5 hours to complete this aspect.
  3. No change control or explanation of what process people needed to follow. Again, no thought put thought into the workflow so we ended up walking all over the place, from one set of counters to the next. In no logical order.
  4. The police clearance was done outside the brand new building by police officers who sat at a broken desk armed with the scanners necessary to capture details into the system, print yet another unnecessary thermal printout to allow you to move through the system – seemingly no thought to efficiency and workflow, pillar to post and only the security guards actually helped us navigate and get through.
  5. Each painful step seemed designed to simply collect the next Tax, nothing else.

You may ask why I have detailed this horrible 4.5-hour ordeal. It is because I draw the parallel of why we automate things. Principally it is to improve productivity and quality. Nothing in this process did that, in fact, the entire process felt like it was simply to collect the taxes necessary. Well, if that was the design goal it would be so easy to put people with a single scanner and credit card facility (maybe a cashier desk where necessary) and just like a secure estate, scan the passport, car papers, credit card and away you go. A customs search if necessary and that entire process should be done with modern software, payments and data-capturing technology in 20 minutes.

In conclusion and the takeaway from this for us in the industrial automation field are simple, well-known but not always applied.

  1. Think about the problem and define the required outcome.
  2. Plan the execution – choose and design the hardware and software solution that will achieve the goal.
  3. More importantly, analyse every step and ask if it adds value and moves you towards your objective of a better more reliable and more efficient operation. If it doesn’t scrap it and rethink the problem.
  4. Communicate the process to operators and managers this makes buying into a new system easier as they understand the objectives and why things are done like they are.

This year is another big one for us with Adroit 11 in planning. I trust you will all have a great 2023 and look forward to doing a lot more business this year.

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