Data-Driven Spirituality Provides Tangible Gains

Digital technology could help CNC machine shops put more heart and soul into their work.


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The spirituality of manufacturing is not a topic you’ll come across very often in Modern Machine Shop, at least not directly. However, a recent article by Editor Emeritus Mark Albert offers a compelling argument that the technology facilitating today’s interconnected, data-driven shop floors also helps manufacturers tap into the tangible benefits of a more spiritual approach to work. In the spirit of the holiday season, this thesis is worth summarizing here.   

I appreciate Mark’s definition of spirituality because it is broad enough to appeal to those who follow any religion or no religion. He describes it as “an awareness of and responsiveness to God or some sacred dimension.” My interpretation of this is that one’s approach to work can be called “spiritual” when it is mindful of life’s greater context and energized by causes greater than oneself. As for the tangible benefits of such an approach, Mark says a “higher calling” can make manufacturers more productive, more creative, more capable, more ethical and more team oriented. Even beyond manufacturing, the more we feel connected with what incites us to passion and inspires us to action, the better we are likely to perform.

I have experienced this. Perhaps the most notable example was a 2016 visit to the Jane Addams Resource Corp. (JARC). JARC is a Chicago-based non-profit that fights poverty by training the financially disadvantaged in manufacturing and assisting them in finding work (including helping with hurdles such as transportation, child care, purchasing work boots and so forth). I like to think that my enthusiasm for the organization’s cause filtered through in the resulting article. The prospect of this piece potentially making an impact, whether by motivating further support for JARC or simply changing someone’s thinking, inspired me to higher levels of care, creativity and diligence than I could have achieved otherwise.  

For those who spend more time machining parts than writing articles, Mark argues that the latest advances in data-driven manufacturing make inspiration easier to find. Surprisingly, he says, “digitalization and Industry 4.0” can provide a source of both personal fulfillment and corporate prosperity.

As he puts it, “I see great promise in these developments because they can help us put our hearts and souls into manufacturing on a new level.” More specifically, greater interconnectedness fosters greater connection between those who design a product, those who make it and those who use it.

Beyond that, he writes, “these developments are helping to overcome the dehumanizing effect that mass production and assembly lines have had on workers. This has been a long-standing complaint about factory life. Too often, factory workers had no connection to the integrity or excitement of the designer’s invention and no connection to the usefulness or beauty of the finished product.

“We can get away from this by moving to these new modes of manufacturing,” he continues. “For the first time in history, digitalization enables designers, makers and end users to be on the same page —literally on the same digital platform and even in the same maker space, which could be the micro factory down the street.”  

Mark’s article offers much more detail on data-driven spirituality, and on “the soul of manufacturing” in general. I think you’ll find it to be a provocative yet affirmative overview of this topic that touches on theology, but avoids being preachy or doctrinaire.