Flowers may bloom in spring, but so do automation conferences. And Automation World was in attendance covering as many as possible. Following is a capsule look at three recent events.
Rockwell Automation’s RSTechEd, a user education conference for Rockwell Software (www.rockwellautomation.com/rockwellsoftware), was held June 7-10 in Los Angeles. The focus was on Manufacturing Intelligence—cited by Software Market Development Director Keith McPherson as a “growth opportunity.” He further noted, “Manufacturing Intelligence is closed loop decision support.”
Much of the press briefing on the topic involved an explanation of a seemingly mundane but actually crucial point—how Rockwell Software is going to market. When Rockwell began its trail of acquisitions in the 1990s with ICOM, it tried to fit software into the distributor channel—with decidedly mixed results. As acquisitions compounded, an enterprise sales team was established led by Vice President Bob Honor. Now, building on the Incuity acquisition and Vantage Point products, Rockwell has developed a suite of products that can be sold through the normal automation and control channel without conflict with the enterprise sales force selling projects that are long term, low quantity and higher priced.
One other notable comment was made by Senior Vice President Steve Eisenbrown, who said, "We can now cover 95 percent of process automation applications. We can now call our controller a DCS (distributed control system)."
Next up June 13-16 in Phoenix was Honeywell Process Solutions’ (hpsweb.honeywell.com) Honeywell Users Group (HUG). Like Rockwell’s event, attendance was up over last year. Harsh Chitale, in his new role of vice president and general manager of the Americas business, addressed the four key points for the week in his opening keynote. These were:
• Reduce total cost of ownership for customers. As an example, Chitale offered Honeywell's work with Microsoft to extend the life and support for Windows XP and Server 2003 plus for the future for Windows 7 and Server 2008 (which will be part of Honeywell’s latest Experion release). Further, Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) will be offering a “skip the release” feature. And a final example is increased use of virtualization.
• Reduce costs from obsolescence. Here, Chitale noted Honeywell’s practice of keeping platforms alive longer than any competitors.
• Help mitigate the loss of knowledge. HPS is expanding its portfolio and deployment of training.
• Efficient management of open systems. First, this refers to products based on Microsoft Windows/Intel microprocessor-based products. HPS is expanding its services program.
Norm Gilsdorf, HPS chief executive officer, noted that Honeywell continued to pour money into research and development throughout the down economy. The world’s change is accelerating, Gilsdorf said. There is an increased concern for safety and security, there is the uncertain economic environment, resource constraints—especially trained people—continue to plague companies, and finally, the world faces energy supply/going green issues. "We'll have to live with economic uncertainty going forward," he predicted.
MESA International (www.mesa.org) postponed its 2009 meeting due to concerns over the economy, but this year’s event, held at the Ford Conference Center in Dearborn, Mich., June 21-23, attracted just over 200 people. The event featured an “Unconference” sponsored by Automation World on Wednesday, June 23. The format was to put a premium on attendee participation with no formal presentations. Feedback was positive, and organizers are looking forward to an extended Unconference next year.
John Dyck, MESA chair, called understanding and unlocking operations potential—operations management—the next major frontier in manufacturing. He noted that most operations still use paper and Microsoft Excel for data collection and analysis, whereas modern applications specifically tailored for manufacturing information offer stronger data collection and analysis functions.
Julie Fraser, chair of the MESA Metrics working group, updated the group on the latest work on metrics, including results of a study relating use of metrics to drive performance and the company’s financial performance improvement showing a positive correlation of the use of metrics.
James Tetreault, Ford Motor Co. vice president of North American Manufacturing, outlined the alignment of Ford’s recovery plan and manufacturing. The company has been aggressively restructuring manufacturing to operate profitably at the current demand and achieve flexibility to quickly change product mix based upon sudden changes in consumer buying habits—driven, for example, by fluctuations in the price of gasoline. Similar to all successful companies, Ford continued to invest even during the downturn and a financial situation that left it heavy in debt. But the debt is in the process of being paid down, and the company’s outlook is better now.
Honeywell Process Solutions