A Connected World

Sept. 9, 2006
The industry is moving from connecting sensors to connecting information.
When one thinks of connecting in a digital world, networks come to mind. At the August Profibus Trade Organization general membership meeting in Phoenix, Executive Director Mike Bryant made a startling statement. "Profi is evolving from a fieldbus technology to an automation technology."

Let that sink in for a moment. The industry is moving from connecting sensors with bit-level data in order to control one machine or process, to connecting information publishers to information subscribers. Some of this may still be for local control, but as we evolve, much of this connectivity is more often for managing entire plants, and even enterprises, to achieve operational excellence. Bryant's comment reminds us to step back and look at the bigger picture.Speaking of the big picture, Tim Dehne, National Instruments' vice president of research and development, delivering his annual keynote address at NI Week, challenged us to consider what we're doing to make the world better by using our technology and skills. He pointed to the principles of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org). Noting Gates' drive toward low-cost computing and ubiquitous global networks, Dehne stated, "The connected world makes a difference. Look at the spread of knowledge generated by things like Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org). In fact, Web publishing speeds scientific discoveries, since a paper can get a tremendous amount of peer review on the Web vs. the limited and slow approach of scientific journals."At NI Week, Dehne always lists the top new technologies to watch, and this year was no exception. Of course, National Instruments is working on ways to exploit these, but many other companies are too. You might ponder ways in which these might help you achieve excellence in manufacturing. Topping his list were multicore microprocessors. As all of these chips become more powerful, suppliers will make more useful products. In this case, these processors will enable powerful parallel processing. Other technologies included new computer bus structures (specifically PCI Express) and field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Three of the technologies cited are germane to the connectivity theme: networks including Ethernet and USB, wireless networking and smarter sensors that can communicate more information.True to his challenge, Dehne and his team exhibited uses of technology by engineers making the world a better place, from sophisticated testing of crash helmets to improved laser eye surgery.Innovation rocksThinking about all of this innovation, I challenged Jim Pinto to think about innovation in a few of his columns. His first one appears on page 62. He told me he had to cut 1,500 words to make this one fit. Look for more thoughts and challenges during the coming months. I think it's crucial that we all become innovative so that we can become ever more competitive.Finally, speaking of connectedness and innovation, we are proud to unveil our long-awaited new Web site. It took a lot of my time during the past year, and I wasn't even the major player. The design forced us to take a fresh look at our readers and the types of content they need. So, we are offering, in addition to excellent search capabilities, two taxonomies for filtering the information on the site. One way is by your role in the organization. The other is by type of information. You can still sort by products, too.We're always looking for new ways to connect. Featured on the site are links to my blog and Podcast. We will have additional Podcasts or audio files in the near future. We also link to archived Webcasts, which have proved to be very popular. I'm still looking for other ways to involve you in the conversations. Don't be afraid to send a note or post a comment. We like conversations.