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The Connected Knowledge Vision [Manufacturing Unscripted Podcast]

The Connected Knowledge Vision [Manufacturing Unscripted Podcast]

How to bridge the communication gap between engineers and frontline workers. Canvas CEO, Patricia Hume, and VP of Solutions, Eliannah Linehan, share their experiences.

By
Patricia Hume
January 16, 2024

After 44 years in business, one of the things I enjoy most is taking what’s in my head and sharing it with younger colleagues, who are following behind me, people like Canvas’ VP of Solutions, Eliannah Linehan.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently participated with Ellie in the Manufacturing Unscripted podcast, hosted by Matthew and Lauren Rall. During the episode, Ellie and I share what brought each of us to Canvas and how our experiences come together to drive the strategy behind the Canvas Envision connected knowledge platform. We discuss the problems that hinder the flow of communication from engineers to front-line workers and back again, as well as the business impacts when that communication actually works.

Every story has some gems, and this podcast is no exception. What emerges is a kind of origin story of our connected knowledge platform and flagship product, Canvas Envision.

The journey to Canvas

I didn’t found Canvas. In fact, I came to the company as an investor and saw a sleeping giant. I saw the promise of the technology to overcome the traditional silos within manufacturing organizations with its powerful, yet easy-to-use interactive models and animations. So, I helped Canvas spin out of its parent company in 2018 and formulate a strategy for growth. It wasn’t long after that the board asked me to become CEO.

Meanwhile, Ellie spent her early years as an aerospace design engineer. The word aerospace is enough to make most people feel awe, and needless to say, she’s brilliant. Nonetheless, there were problems she couldn’t solve: Why did existing tools make it hard for anyone but design engineers to access basic product information? Why was she spending more time creating PowerPoints with screenshots than solving design problems?

Everyone needs to communicate and collaborate, but no one wants to pull engineers outside their zone of genius when they're trying to get their work done. Ellie, for one, knew there had to be a better way.

When we connected, she was tackling her next career feat: product management, building PLM software for engineers. I knew right away Ellie was the person to drive the vision for our connected knowledge platform, because she understood the needs of engineers, their issues with knowledge transfer, and the challenges with pulling data from sources of truth.

But it wasn’t just engineers whose needs she understood. She also had direct experience with the needs of front-line workers.

Giving workers a voice

When we pivoted Canvas from a provider of technical illustration applications for individuals to a provider of enterprise-level interactive digital work instruction solutions, we knew we had to provide front-line workers with instructional material that was easily consumable, in the right language for the user, and accessible on a range of devices. We also developed a thesis that companies would benefit from enabling front-line workers to contribute their ideas and give feedback. Particularly with baby boomers retiring, institutional knowledge is disappearing, and worker retention is a growing problem.

Ellie knew the value of feedback from the shop floor, because she had experienced what happens when front-line workers don’t get the information they need:

“You know what happens? They sit there until somebody shows up, who can answer the question...But on the other hand, there are brilliant people doing these jobs, who have 30, 40 years of experience. They’re very intelligent. They know they could probably design better stuff than we designed, because they’d see it and ask, ‘Why is this like this? It doesn’t fit. Do you know what I have to do to get this thing in here?’

“They would try to solve the problems on their own. They’d be in our PLM system with the entire engine showing and looking for how it goes together, and I admired it, because it was not really in the job description.”

No one wants a work stoppage, certainly not to learn product insights. Vital information is needed on the shop floor, and screenshots pasted into a printed PowerPoint won’t cut it.

Moreover, productivity isn’t the only reason to bring workers into the dialogue. Giving people a voice shows the importance of their role and helps keep them engaged, which impacts quality, retention, and speed.

From knowledge transfer to knowledge exchange

Our vision is to bridge the gap between design and the shop floor, making it easier for engineers to share their expertise and for front-line workers to act on it. More importantly, we are bringing front-line workers into the conversation, to make knowledge transfer a two-way street. In short, we aim to turn the digital thread into a digital loop.

Ellie is one of a growing team of people at Canvas who are deeply invested in solving the problem of information sharing between engineers and front-line workers, because they have first-hand knowledge of how hard it can be. I couldn’t be more delighted to see their passion and dedication to making the product better every day.  

The ultimate outcome is for our customers to make better quality products faster and more efficiently. We believe standing in the shoes of both engineers and front-line workers will make that outcome a reality.  

Memorable moments from the podcast:

  • On interrupting an engineer to ask for screen shots: “There must be a better way to do this. We're smart people doing smart things in the dumbest way possible.” Ellie Linehan
  •  “Fun fact: when I jumped into project management, I purposely asked for a new laptop that couldn't run CAD, so I didn't have to take screenshots.” Manufacturing Unscripted host, Matthew Rall
  • “We don't want to pay mechanical engineers or software engineers or anybody to be outside their zone of genius and be disrupted when we're trying to get the work done.” Patricia Hume
  • On the digital thread: “’Threads break. We have to create a digital loop.’” Patricia Hume, quoting Canvas CTO, Phil Landman

Watch/listen to the podcast

About the author
Patricia Hume
Chief Executive Officer
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