Not a Mickey Mouse Event, ISA Week Overview

ISA drives home learning as the major theme for the third Automation Week, held in Orlando, Fla. from Sept. 24-27.

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Last year, the annual ISA Automation Week was held in the port city of Mobile. Ala., and ISA played to its strengths: training and dissemination of knowledge. This year, in a larger venue, the strengths and the weaknesses of the event were clear. But, the event could be by no means be called a flop, disaster or a Mickey Mouse event. 

Strong and Relevant Program
The strength was undoubtedly the technical program, the program truly does serve as the cornerstone of the event. It was a world-class conference covering the latest and hottest topics in automation and control across several technical tracks. Each track offered in-depth sessions—ranging from basic to advanced—with information critical to several identified automation and control career paths.

We were unable to attend many of these sessions but those we did attend were quite remarkable in the quality and clarity of the presentations, the breadth of knowledge imparted, the intelligence of the questions asked, as well as the number of delegates attending each. The Program Chairman, Peter Martin of Invensys and his Vice-Chair, Alison Smith of Aspen certainly deserve credit for such a relevent program.

It was divided into strands or tracks, as they called them, under two broad headings. The first was called Operational Excellence Tracks which included Control Performance , Asset Performance, Human Perfornace and Safety/Environmental topics. The Technology Excellence Tracks included Wireless and the currently hot topic of Security. As can be seen some of the tracks would have a certain overlap with others and there were inevitably clashes in the program as due to limitations of time sessions on say Human Performance and Security, or Wireless and Asset Performance would occur at the same times. ISA tried to alleviate this somewhat by providing the conference proceedings for delegates on line on their site. (Only attendees registered to the conference have access to these papers!).

Topics of interest included: the intriguing "Governments & Industrial Security"; "Operational Excellence–the essential Driver of increased profitability"; "What your DCS knows but wont tell you"; “Are Humans needed in a crisis"; “Getting results from Social Media"; “Establishing an effective plant cybersecurity program"; and from John Barth of Apprion, “Turnarounds, Real Time and Beyond: How a Wireless Plant Network Changed the Way we do Turnarounds.”

To help people navigate the sessions, ISA again used “Pathfinder, a tool based on job function or professional goals. which provides a list of sesions based on certain preferences. The headings were Engineer, Technician, Management, Academia and Marketing. Also, for the first time, it included Executive, driving content for those particularly interested in how Automation drives excellence and the bottom line.

Any of the sessions I attended rarely had less than about thirty attendees and some had many more.

Lessons from Walt Disney!
Each day started with a keynote event and on the first day we were addressed by Greg Hale, who is Chief Safety Officer and VP at Walt Disney. He is responsible for the safety of cast members, as staff are called and millions of visitors at the various Walt Disney parks and resorts throughout the world. Despite the name of Walt Disney’s most famous creation it was quite obvious that his organization was certainly no “Mickey Mouse” organization. He pointed out that this was due to Walt Disney’s “keys to success,” the four critical areas every employee learns to prioritise that lead to the company’s global reputation for excellence. The keys are “safety, courtesy, show and efficiency,” and he pointed out they ought mean as much to running a sustainable plant as they do to selling Mickey Mouse.

The second day there was an open discussion on the Future of Automation an intriguing insight into the views of suppliers, consultants and end-users into where our profession is or ought to be going. This panel included Invensys Operations Management CEO Michael Caliel, Chet Mroz, CEO Yokogawa America, and Wolfgang Morr, General Manager of NAMUR.

Finally on day three, Travis Capps, VP of Energy & Gasses at Valery Energy Corporation reinforced the often expressed opinion becoming more and more real to us, “It’s not business as usual anymore.”

Lessons from the Master!
An abiding memory for us was the “Fireside Chat” session with the “Father of the PLC,” Dick Morley, on Tuesday evening. Morley’s Chat offered attendees a rare opportunity to sit and talk with one of automation’s best known legends, a leading visionary in the field of advanced technology development and an inventor who holds more than 20 technology patents. I will hold the sight of “Father” Morley surrounded by a phalanx of devotees like a Greek philosopher of old holding his disciples enthralled with his wisdom. Long may he continue to do so!

Where were the big boys?
We’ve talked about the strengths but of course there were drawbacks and deficiencies too. I suppose the weakest point was the “Solution Providers’ Showcase.” This was the exhibition area and the main problem here was the size of the hall. It was too big for what was on display. The displays and the opportunity to meet stand personnel were good and the delegates were happy enough from what we could ascertain from visitors. The organization allowed for a large gap in presentations in the middle of the day for eats and networking on the floor. But where oh where were the big solution providers? Where was ABB? Where was Emerson? Where was Rockwell? Where was Endress & Hauser? Where was Yokogawa? Yes some of them provided speakers but unless one attended those particular sessions how could one know?


Siemens were there, however, and ISA Partners, including,  Honeywell, Invensys, Cooper Bussman, Maverick, A3 Controls, Fluke and OSIsoft. I was a little disapointed too in the number and variety of tweets eminating from the event using the hashtag #ISAutowk, comparing it, perhaps unfairly, to company sponsored events.

A really busy stand was the ISA Book Store which seemed to be throbbing with activity anytime I passed it and included several new Books still warm from the printing presses.

This was my last year as ISA Publications Department VP and it was a particular honour for me to present awards on behalf of the Department to the eminent and learned authors. The 50th birthday of ISA Transactions, the Journal of Automation was also marked. Dr Russ Rhinehart, immediate past Editor, gave a run down on the journal and how it anticipated so many trends and development in the field over the last fifty years and also the emergence of many of the papers from outside of the USA, demonstrating the true international or global reach of the profession. He then cut the Birthday cake. Fire restrictions forbade the burning of fifty candles!

The show daily newsletter was published on line each day as last year by InTech, ISA’s magazine and automation.com.

Speaking with ISA Executive Director, Pat Gouhin, while not alluding to its weaknesses confirmed our own view, “We’ve had an incredible week, with dozens of true legends in their fields sharing their knowledge and insights with a motivated, excited group of attendees.”  This enthusiasm was clear in a comment by a Nigerian delegate “ISA Automation Week has been a stimulating, friendly, learning-intensive event.”  And a tweet (#isautowk) as everybody was heading home on the last day said “Always learning!” This feature, “Learning,” was echoed again and again by delegates so much so that it could be described as a motif for the event.

This is the third year of Automation Week and hopefully ISA will be able to make further improvements to ensure a fully successful and exciting event on all fronts in 2013.

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