Ignite the Torch

“When you ask someone to do something, don’t insult them by asking for something easy to do.” Max DuPree, business leader and author.

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The International Society of Automation (ISA) certainly dropped the proverbial bomb on the floor of  ISA Expo 2009 held Oct. 6-8 in Houston. When exhibitor representatives assembled for the annual booth location drawing for a presumed ISA Expo 2010, they were informed that there would be no ISA Expo 2010. “Automation Week” would be taking its place Oct. 4-7 next year at the Westin Galleria in Houston. This event will be a conference that will incorporate small “table-top” displays.

Ending the run of the last automation general trade show was not the end of the news, though. And rumors spread during the Expo, spilling over into blog posts, “tweets,” e-mail exchanges and even telephone calls as industry insiders hustled to get the news and then try to understand what was going on with the Society. (I hope you all understand blogs by now—and are following me at www.garymintchellsfeedforward.com. “Tweets” are 140-character messages on a social network called Twitter, www.twitter.com. You can visit www.twitter.com/garymintchell for an example.)

Controversial topic

Jim Pinto calls me every month and asks, “Gary, what controversial topic would you like me to address this month?” He devoted more than two full days researching for this month’s column on ISA (see "Whither ISA?"). He talked with at least a dozen people, including ISA Executive Director Pat Gouhin, and came up with the important facts, succinct analysis and a few suggestions. Both of us are interested in what you think about his ideas—and will pass them along to appropriate people at ISA as applicable.

All of these discussions started me thinking about the role of ISA and other member organizations. I’m a member of ISA, but I don’t participate in many activities. I am supposed to be affiliated with the Dayton, Ohio section, but I’ve never made it to a meeting. Its meetings conflict with another long-standing commitment I have—but it could be said that the topics don’t appeal enough for me to drop my other commitments. I’m also a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). When I first joined, around 1990, the local chapter was active. We had interesting speakers who spoke on new technologies and applications. The chapter organized a small trade show to raise funds for the student chapters at the Lima branch of The Ohio State University and at Ohio Northern University. But its meetings, too, stagnated, and the trade show was replaced by a golf outing.

I guess I reflect part of the problems with these organizations as they have been historically organized. If ISA can get only 15 percent or so of its 30,000 members to attend Expo, what is its future? ISA has been a leader in the development of standards for our industry. It must continue to do that. Its sections were the foundation of networking opportunities for members. This is still important, but we don’t live in a world where we only network with people within a 50-mile radius. ISA must become a hub for the new networking—LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, conferences.

There’s one last thing. Think about the person who “passed the torch” of passion for process control and automation to you. To whom have you passed the torch? I think that ISA should take the initiative to work with academics and involved companies to develop a science and engineering project-based education starter kit for kids—much like the FIRST Robotics competition and Lego League for discrete automation. It’s time that the organizations and its members develop young people’s passion for science and learning. Let’s ignite the torch.

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