Watch Out--Here It Comes

Jan. 13, 2007
What’s coming? 2007, of course. As we begin our fourth full year of publishing, I am contemplating where the various aspects of the automation business have developed and where they might be going.
When we started laying the foundation of Automation World in late February 2003, we started from a basic premise that the manufacturing world had changed. One change was in buying influences among manufacturing users of automation. Where once a lone control engineer would try, specify and buy automation, we noticed the rise of an automation buying team. When supplier sales people meet with clients, they face not only engineering, but also staff from information technology, accounting, purchasing and probably others. So we set out to develop an editorial package that reached this broader audience with information that would help them ask better questions during buying sessions. This is still relevant today.

Another aspect of the changing world was the demand by corporate executives for faster, more reliable information direct from manufacturing. So we also structured the editorial to cover “sensor-to-boardroom.” This new technology has been successful for most leading manufacturers. Now the problem is often too much information. We will continue to follow developments in smart sensing and smart output devices that are information servers. Technology innovation now is in applications that help professionals, from executives to operators, to make sense of the information, so that they can make better, faster decisions. Expect to see a lot of coverage of that—including our new quarterly feature, The Performance Management Review.

Crucial to this process of gathering, communicating, analyzing and visualizing information is a set of interoperability standards. These include OPC, ISA-88, ISA-95, Make2Pack, Open O&M and many others. Some of the organizations behind this work include OPC Foundation, Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, OMAC Users Group, WBF, MIMOSA and more. Many of these standards build upon general high-technology work such as XML, RSS and Service Oriented Architectures. 2006 seemed to be a year of taking a breath for many of the organizations behind the standards. With the birth of the Automation Federation, I expect to see renewed emphasis on interoperability standards during 2007. We will be watching this closely and reporting frequently.

One of the hottest topics in the process automation arena in 2006 was the intense jousting among technology suppliers regarding wireless sensor and control networks. Emerson Process Management fired a volley in February, followed by Honeywell Process Systems in June, rebutted by Emerson in October, then Honeywell again in November, with another Emerson announcement coming this month. Meanwhile, ABB, Invensys Foxboro and Yokogawa have also laid out wireless plans—as has the Hart Communications Foundation. Many of us fear that the SP100 committee of the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) will fall into a political quagmire and issue a report so defective that it will be useless. I’m hoping that the committee’s cooler heads prevail and that the final standard addresses best practice recommendations on security, reliability and interoperability.

The key words for 2007: intelligence, performance management, interoperability and wireless.

All of us here are gratified by the reception that we’ve gotten as we tried to push the envelope a little. Thanks are due to all of you for your comments of praise and suggestions for improvement. As I said in our first issue in June 2003—and it still holds today—I’m passionate about automation. The things we write about and that you implement have the power to make manufacturing more competitive, and to make life better for all of us. Here’s to a great 2007.        Gary Mintchell,