The Buzz is Back

“I suddenly realized that almost the entire ‘Who’s Who’ of automation was in that room today,” said an industry marketing vice president to Jane Gerold and me during the recent Manufacturing Strategies Forum put on by Andy Chatha and his ARC Advisory Group, held in Orlando Feb.

21-22. The president or chief executive officer of six automation companies, plus vice presidents of three others, spoke on Tuesday. Some of these speakers traveled from as far away as Germany, Australia and Japan to be there. And if you looked closely at the end-users in the audience (and sometimes speaking) you saw many more industry leaders.

The two days were full of conversations, one-on-one meetings, interviews and press conferences. So while Jane got to hear most of the Forum (see her top ten takeaways on page 64), I was involved in the most intense discussions I’ve had at an event since the late 1990s. You couldn’t help but come away from the event thinking that there is a lot of energy left in the automation industry.

During the OMAC end user meetings on Thursday, one inescapable conclusion leapt out—users want standards for communication more quickly than standards organizations typically work. Users need to integrate plant floor data into business information, and they need to do it in a timetable measured more in months than in years. I got the feeling that weeks wouldn’t overstate the expectation.

Help out

I have attended these OMAC (Open Modular Architecture Control) Users Group meetings following ARC Forums since 1998. While the OMAC machine tool group is still struggling to get all the players on board, the OMAC Microsoft Users Group and OMAC Packaging Working Group have each seen much success. Enough so that other groups are trying to enlist users (rather than being supplier-driven) to drive direction and adoption. Recently, both the OPC Foundation and MESA have indicated that they are trying to enlist more user support. At the ARC Forum, the Hart Communications Foundation sponsored an end-user roundtable with the express intent of starting a users’ group. Meanwhile, Automation World columnist and ISA SP-95 Chair Keith Unger is asking for user help with further development of the ISA-95 standard for data exchange (see his column on page 60).

These working groups are extremely valuable to the advancement of technology and the industry. I served on a few in my previous career. The work was rewarding and enriching. Please consider ways that you can help further this work in your areas of concern. If you are reading this magazine, you are one of the industry leaders. Step up and help out.

This issue addresses an area of considerable importance to manufacturing executives—or at least one that should be important. Energy costs are getting high enough to attract management attention. When I tried to sell energy savings to factories in the early ‘90s, the cost was so small relative to other out-of-control costs that the return just didn’t seem to be there. The world has changed a lot since then. When a barrel of oil is three times today what it was then, the price of energy becomes “real money.”

Consider how many motors are running in your facility. Almost nothing happens without a motor turning. A little investment in a Premium Efficient motor could return its worth many times over the life of that motor. Multiply that by the hundreds in your plant. I bet you could see the savings. Then look at your facility itself. There’s another place for both conservation and cost reduction. Do yourself and the environment a favor and check out those ideas in this issue.

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