A Dual Challenge

The annual Performance Manufacturing Forum, sponsored by the ARC Advisory Group, had just concluded as this issue was coming together.

Several of you were there, but many more could take advantage of this type of gathering. No, I’m not shilling for ARC. I’m more interested in what all of us gain from industry meetings.

There are at least two valuable growth experiences derived by participants in a forum or conference. First of all, you increase your knowledge of industry best practices. During formal sessions and while chatting around the coffee pot, experiences are shared that can help you professionally and enable you to make your company better and more competitive. The other growth possibility is the opportunity to help establish industry standards. These standards not only will help your company, they also boost the entire industry. The various Working Groups of the Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC) Users Group have already accomplished much. Another organization worthy of investment of time and energy is the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society—ISA—and its standards committees.

In this issue, Automation World tackles the complex, but potentially rewarding, problem of energy management. The feature articles all show the results of research into how some companies are approaching energy management. Jane Gerold argues persuasively in her column on page 72 about the importance of managing your energy resources. But also check out what Jim Pinto says on page 70. The usually provocative Pinto lays out a challenge for all of you. He suggests not only managing energy but also looking for business opportunities.

Servant leadership seems to be something of a hot topic, so I decided to read several books on the topic by James C. Hunter. After finishing two of them, I’m not convinced that this concept is really all that new. During one of my stints as a product development manager in the 1980s, articles in the “Harvard Business Review” and the book “ProActive Management,” by A.P. Martin, heavily influenced me to try something other than thinking for everyone. What we did was build teams focused on a product area. My part was: “What can I do as part of senior management to help you?” I tried to provide a direction (we need some new products in this area of our portfolio), provide resources and encouragement, then get out of the way.

Leadership wins

Another technique combines leadership and mentoring. I was thinking about this as I attended the wake of a man who was one of my first mentors in manufacturing. This is way back when my unofficial title (heck, it may have been my official title for all I know) was “the kid in engineering.” I had the great opportunity to build a position from nothing while reporting to the vice president of product development. Besides myself, Jack was the VP’s other direct report, as well as the “grizzled veteran.” Jack’s technique was to stop by my desk occasionally, apparently just to chat. His chats were always “hints.” Upon reflection I could see that he was providing valuable insight into how best to accomplish the mission and get management approval.

Tying this back to Pinto’s challenge, and to conferences, I’d lay out this challenge for you. Decide to do something about energy management and exploring new business opportunities. Get to some relevant conferences and learn something about the state of the art and potential markets. Get back to the office and start developing ideas. Use your powers of persuasion and vision to build a team of dedicated, like-minded people. The important thing is to do something, don’t just fret about it.

What are you doing to make things better? Isn’t it time to start?

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