Automation road trip

At a tradeshow, we often don’t get the time, attention, and focus of vendors if we’re not an existing customer. At AutomationXchange, anyone with an automation initiative is important.

Automation Road TripBy Jeremy Pollard, CET, Columnist

MAY IS A wonderful time to be in Arizona, especially after surviving another Canadian snow-belt winter. Though it was a milder than usual winter, the idea of playing a desert golf course and spending some quality time with my Control Design colleagues (not in that order, my editor reminded me) is more than enough incentive to grab a plane ride to the valley.

Our AutomationXchange is a very unique event. It invites machine control professionals to join us at a wonderful venue, where they have two days of one-on-one time with well-prepared automation vendors who can help their business.

Every machine control professional I spoke with there enjoyed the format, and learned quite a lot about the vendors they spent time with. It really is something to see the reaction of potential buyers when they learn that a current supplier has a product that they’ve been looking for, haven’t been able to find, and had no idea that vendor supplied it.

It’s equally interesting when a few of them discover that a new vendor has a product or service that they (the OEM) didn’t know could help them.

This year, my fearless editor told me to make sure to spend some time with a few of the attending vendors when I could build some free time into my schedule. I was all over it. I was anxious to see what the machine control professionals got out of their hour-long meetings, and what I could learn.

My first stop was Pilz Automation Safety. A very good friend of mine recently went to work for this company, and I trust his judgment. I wanted to hear about their approach to safety in the automated workplace. I hate to say it, but I’d always been a bit fuzzy about the difference between a safety PLC and a normal PLC. While it isn’t important to tell you about those differences here, it is important to say that the questions and answers were relaxed, informative and, in the end, very helpful.

I write software for automation systems. We software guys typically don’t get to be involved with the hardware specifications. Well, now I will when it involves safety relays and PLCs. The approach to the MCR circuits is so intuitive and, with the redundancy, can make this a snap to implement.

Next, a short golf cart drive took me to Indusoft, a software company that develops HMI and SCADA software for the masses. Now, I’ve been writing software and writing about software for more than 25 years, but for some reason I think the last time I saw what they were doing up close and personal proabably was at the IPC show in Detroit in the 1990s.

Indusoft has what seems to be a pretty unique approach. It’s adjusted to the market, and now provides machine builders with a great development environment, and low-cost run-times. With these Windows CE-based products, OEMs have a real choice for full-featured software at a reasonable cost. The company also has teamed with Maple Systems to produce a very sleek offering for machine HMI. It’s a Windows CE environment that lets the OEM incorporate additional functionality as required.

My last stop was Opto 22—you know, the I/O company. When I told the Opto folks that I/O was what I thought they did, they looked at each other, and wondered how I could think that. I learned about their actual product line, offerings, and unique solutions to very unique problems. After that, I wondered if I’d been in a coma for a few years.

The Opto guys actually had a plane to catch, so I said I’d only take a few moments of their time. Well, they missed the first plane, but hopefully made the second one. We talked about solutions and products for well over an hour.

I actually have an application for which I haven’t been able to find a solution—perhaps until this meeting. Opto 22 is going to send me some products to review for that application. I can’t wait to play.

At a tradeshow, we often don’t get the time, attention and focus of the vendors, especially if we’re not an existing customer. It’s not right, but a hypothetical senior engineer from a J&P Electric doesn’t have the same draw power as J.P. Engineer from Shell Oil.

AutomationXchange works differently. Every machine control professional with an automation initiative to get done is important, and that benefits everyone. Write to me if you’d like to know more.

  About the Author
Jeremy PollardJeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User Online, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 20 years. You can e-mail Jeremy at

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