Will the Next Generation Automation Professional Give Time?

May 9, 2011
T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruelest month.” Well, the weather in the United States has been pretty cruel for the month.  But April can be almost that way for editors, since it is one of those “conference months.”

Among other trips was one to Florida for the ABB Automation and Power User Conference. I’ve just finished up the month with our Packaging Automation Forum (PAF) and a stop at the Maintenance and Reliability Technology Summit (MARTS).

The mythology of our industry is that we are all “old, white men.” Well, in the United States anyway. I know that there are younger people entering the automation profession. The question is where are they. Do younger people, male and female, go to conferences? Do companies promote conference attendance as a learning experience? Or do young people just not care about these opportunities? I don’t have answers, but I’m curious. Automation World will be conducting a survey of readers to answer these, and other questions, about the state of automation professionals today.

Another problem that some are noticing is participation in activities that promote the profession and manufacturing in general. A generation of engineers has devoted extra time to developing standards and best practices that have helped improve efficiency and productivity of manufacturing and production. They don’t see many younger faces in their meetings. There is concern that younger people raised amongst the greed of Wall Street and presumed overnight billionaire situations in Silicon Valley are more concerned with themselves and not so much for sacrificing some time and talent for the greater good.

I’m not sure I buy that last concern in general. But I am concerned that companies have restructured so much with emphasis only on today’s profits that there is little incentive to look at the future. In other words, is this more of a management problem than a generation problem?

Judging from press releases, the International Society of Automation leadership seems to have de-emphasized member involvement in favor of political action trying to promote an academic-inspired “competency model.” But ISA does continue to support its standards development process. ISA88 (Batch Processing), ISA95 (Manufacturing Operations Management model), ISA99 (Security) and many others have laid the foundation for future success of manufacturing. We need to recruit new members to continue to move these forward.
Help boost security

This issue of Automation World focuses on security. Even here, the work of ISA99 can help prepare engineers and information technology professionals for securing their networks from cyber attacks. There is much work needed to develop best practices and promote awareness of the dire consequences of avoiding consequences of security holes. Indeed, Stuxnet seems to have done more for that objective than anything else. No manager wants to see their name on the front page of “The New York Times” trying to explain away the effects of a successful cyber attack on their company.

Bryan Griffen, head of electrical and automation engineering at Nestle, spoke at the PAF about the many benefits that his company is beginning to realize because of adopting various standards for interoperability of equipment and information. These standards were the result of many hours of donated work. The benefit is there. More help is needed.

While I’m talking about doing something for the greater good, I have to talk about dinner April 26. This was no ordinary dinner. Applied Technology Publications’ MARTS conference has joined up with the Autism Society of Illinois to promote a fundraising dinner during its conference. Through dinner ticket donations and selling books, several thousand dollars have been raised to support Autism awareness and families coping with autism.

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