Continuous Learning

Miami is a great place to spend part of February. Especially when you’re looking over the famed Blue Monster golf course at Doral.

I didn’t go there to play golf, though. I went to attend a conference that I had to pay to attend, not one that I get in free to report on. This was a media workshop that included more than a day of presentations and discussions on developing editorial for both print and Web. Editors from publications and Web sites presenting included “InfoWorld,” “CNNbusiness.com,” “Wired.com,” “ESPN The Magazine,” the online “Kiplinger Report” and “Yoga Journal.” Much of what I learned will be devoted to continuous upgrade of AutomationWorld.com.

Part of what I learned will be implemented in partnership with a new person on the team. We said goodbye to Dave McCue in February as our Web production manager. He did a fantastic job organizing our various online products. He left to pursue writing for something closer to his passion than automation—sports. Can’t say that I blame him. But I wanted to use his leaving as an opportunity to add to the editorial team as well as the production team. Grant Gerke joined us at the end of February as Digital Managing Editor. Not only will he build on the production work that Dave did, but he’ll also assist Wes and me with online content. He and I, along with our Vice President of New Media, Dave Newcorn, are overflowing with ideas for things we can do online. We welcome any ideas that any of you have, too, that will make the site better.

This concept of continuous learning and the passion to adapt to new thinking has been a theme for the past few weeks. Jaison Pontin’s editorial in the April “MIT Technology Review” discussed how a British Army officer developed an idea about how to use that new technology called a tank in a new way during World War I. Instead of using them in support of ground troops, he organized them as an attacking group designed to break through the opposing battle lines, thus allowing the following infantry an opportunity to break through and attack the now scattered enemy. He demonstrated the concept successfully during the war in two battles, but senior officers refused to reconsider their ideas. A German officer, though, read about the ideas, and at age 50, used them as part of the German Blitzkrieg at the beginning of World War II.

New thinking

Taking the idea to manufacturing and automation, check out Wes Iversen’s article about digital manufacturing beginning on page 30. We have a generation of engineers who spent the last 25 to 30 years automating processes with great success. It’s time to build on those ideas by taking the next generation of technologies and applying them to make the next leap forward. It’s going to take some of the current generation of engineers and managers to learn this new trick and teach the new generation that will be coming along. Information and simulation are the new automated loop controllers for the next generation. They’ll have to learn the current automation, but to be successful, they’ll have to develop new processes.

That’s why I asked Jim Pinto to think about the new generation of engineers (see page 64). Sometimes, I read what colleagues are thinking about the coming retirement of this generation of process engineers and wonder if they look around and see different education and skills than the past generation and worry. I look around and see different education and skills and think—great. The next generation of engineers will be different from the last. And that’s OK.

I've recently seen two examples of this problem. At OMAC meetings in February, some are reluctant to take their ideas about packaging machines and extrapolate to general machines. At WBF in March, I saw how some are reluctant to expand ISA88 to include machine control.

Gary Mintchell, Editor in Chief, gmintchell@automationworld.com

 



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