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Building an Automation Team

It was only about seven years ago when I saw a major North American manufacturer build a large, interdisciplinary and international team to shepherd a new product design from the computer-aided-design (CAD) station to full production.

Successfully, I should add. Since then, I’ve studied the growth of this phenomenon with growing appreciation for the creativity of manufacturing professionals.

When Jane Gerold, editorial director, and I set out last February to forge the editorial focus and stance for a new magazine, two things very clearly settled out from the discussions. One was that we saw the growth of automation teams as a trend. Second was that we supported that trend.

It’s only fitting that we begin our first full year of publication studying the team, how to build it, some tools that help and how it’s working. A team of competent, dedicated people is the foundation upon which the entire company is built. The key words for the issue became staffing, collaboration and teamwork.

Dynamic, with passion

The first screening criteria for new staff would be technical competence in the area where the person will be placed. But with the importance of working with others as part of one or more teams, personality characteristics are overwhelmingly important. I appreciated Honeywell Process Systems President Jack Bolick’s response to the question of whom he would hire. “Look for people who are open to change, dynamic in nature and have passion about what they do and are constantly learning.”

A disturbing finding from some of the research I reviewed for this issue was the negative perception that students have about manufacturing. One recent study revealed that students today don’t wish to have anything to do with manufacturing. Computers, life sciences and materials science seem to be hotter, and potentially more lucrative to today’s students.

If you are a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) or the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA), you can work through those organizations to help promote manufacturing to future professionals. Both of these groups have active student components. Or consider volunteering at a local high school to tell students about the value of manufacturing to society and the rewards of working in the field. We need to ensure the future of manufacturing.

The other part of the automation team deals with collaboration. Contributing editor Rob Spiegel uncovered both some tools and experiences that should give you ideas for team collaboration. As team members learn to work together, suppliers are right there with tools to aid teamwork and collaboration.

One of the most frequently discussed barriers to teamwork is the one that often exists between controls engineers and information technology professionals. Some say the problem is that the former group deals with bits, while the latter bunch is concerned with bytes. Or the former is more concerned with hardware, while the latter with software. Whatever the culture clash, the barrier must come down in order for teamwork and progress to flourish.

Sam Parino, chief information officer, Global Refining, for ChevronTexaco, is personally a bridge to both worlds. In his interview with Gerold, he reveals how teamwork can happen.

Automation World began its existence in the middle of 2003, and we thank you for accepting it. As we begin our first full calendar year of publication, our staff looks forward to finding and publishing the most relevant manufacturing information to help all of you do your jobs better. Be sure to check out our Web site,, for updated news, as well as the “e-book” version of the magazine for easy links to additional information. And don’t forget to take our monthly online surveys to help us learn more about what you think. Lastly, send us a note about what is on your mind. We appreciate feedback, whether accolades or criticism. Have a good 2004.

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