Equipment World

December 2017

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Page 73 of 75

E lon Musk is one of today's true geniuses, having developed the Tesla electric car, a re- usable rocket system (Space-X) and the Hy- perloop. But when a two-year backlog in orders for the new Tesla Model 3 emerged, the Wall Street Journal sent a reporter to the Tesla factory in Arizona to find out what was going on. What he found was shocking. The factory was a mess. Parts stacked up haphazardly on benches, tools randomly scattered on the floor. Knots of workers clumped around one car while other frames sat unattended. As it turns out, Musk, a genius in the fields of software and engineering, doesn't have a clue on how to run a factory. No Kaizen method, no Six Sigma, no just-in-time inventory. It appears he's trying to hand-build cars. And unless he can figure this out, and straighten it out fast, Musk's dreams of being a dominant car manufacturer will drown in a tsunami of products made better, faster, more reliable and in much greater quantities by the likes of GM and Ford. What Musk needs is a team of good old-fash- ioned factory managers with deep experience in the nuts and bolts of the efficiency revolution that has been transforming manufacturers over the last 20 years. This matters to the construction world for a simple reason: the most aggressive and signifi- cant technology changes coming in the next decade are almost all focused on transporta- tion and infrastructure. Smart cities, driverless cars and car-to-infrastructure communications will, if they achieve the potential that everyone expects, profoundly change the design of our cities and highways. Google, Apple, Microsoft and legions of other Silicon Valley companies are racing to dominate various aspects of this market. But Musk's shortcomings would seem to indicate that the geniuses of technology don't have any experience in the field they're trying to revolutionize. None, I suspect, has ever laid a brick, tied off a few acres of rebar, graded a site using survey stakes or wrestled with scheduling a half-dozen subs and suppliers on a jobsite. If Tesla can't build a car, a relatively easy thing to do by today's industrial engineering standards, how much worse is it going to be if the titans of tech try to manage the building of a new generation of highways and bridges with no field experience? The more I see of Musk's endeavors in the press, the more I'm convinced his genius lies in ideas and his blind spot is execution. Execu- tion is everything in construction. And you don't get good at execution without time in the field, boots on, rain or shine, for years. What the technology companies working on smart-cities ideas need to do is immediately go out and hire a handful of construction veterans. Operations guys with real world experience in big infrastructure projects – mid- to upper-level people from companies like Fluor, Kiewit and Kokosing. Manufacturers of construction machines and GPS machine control systems have been doing this for the last two decades. Construction hands are plentiful in the technology departments of all the OEMs we report on regularly. These are digitally savvy people who also have dirt and diesel in their blood. It's a great combination of skills and a very lucrative career pathway. But unless Apple, Microsoft, Google and others tap into the wealth of experience the construction industry has to offer, I fear all their drawing-board dreams of smart cities will wind up in dysfunction junction, years behind sched- ule, like the piles of parts that litter the floor of the Tesla factory. December 2017 | 74 final word | by Tom Jackson Genius vs. Experience

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