By Jeremy Pollard
Another ISA show has come and gone. Houston is such a great time. I don't get to "nerd around" that often with people of such global influence. The perspective is inspiring.
That was the word I was looking for during a conversation with some vendor reps on the show floor. The discussions centered around the lack of interest by automation professionals to the ISA show. It had become regional in its nature. There was no buzz and, of course, no real sign of innovation.
It was all about wireless, network switches and big valves. Where did all the technology go?
Some of the most noticeable visitors to the show were people and companies looking for new profit paths from companies that were looking for representation. Distributors and agents were plentiful, as one booth guard mentioned.
Wow, what a difference five years makes.
So where did everyone go? It seems that there are many answers.
A keynote at the ISA conference was about the "maintenance crisis." The average age of people in the process and automation industries is 48. The gray-hair component is far too heavy and it will continue to get worse.
The Canadian government in its infinite wisdom lowered tariffs on imported machinery. This means that a competing machine builder in Europe has a better chance of selling his technology into Canada than a Canadian machine builder does. While this does not mean that a Canadian vendor is hopelessly less competitive than an offshore vendor, I question the actions of some governments in general when it comes to a lack of encouragment for local manufacturing.
And then a conversation fired up about unemployment and how it seemed that everybody knew someone who had lost their jobs of "x=many" years. Yes it is tough, but, if you believe numbers from the ARC Group, revenue for discrete automation systems is to grow to $21 billion by 2012. Looks like a growing business to get into. But I guess you first have to convince a lot of people that they are right.
When he spoke at the Control System Integrators Assn. conference, Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research called the recession, just as most economists didn't. So when Alan speaks, everyone listens? Maybe, but he does think that we are not at the bottom of the cycle yet and we have some time to go.
One of the issues he talked about was the "paint everything with the same brush" mistake. That means you need to treat your top customers as top customers. Treat your top performers as top performers. Train them. Upgrade their skills. They will reward you.
Of course, Jim Pinto always has something to say, and it is his view that distributed manufacturing is a must. We do not have the consumption rates as we once did locally, and we can't build plants for this reduced consumption. Think factory in a truck. So instead of having 10 people in one spot, you might have 20 people in 10 spots. This would also distribute the wealth that manufacturing creates.
Rockwell Automation CEO Keith Nosbusch agreed, as he spoke at the National Summit in Detroit. He suggests that federal R&D and economic stimulus needs to focus on industrial automation and information technology at levels not seen since the '70s. PLC inventor Dick Morley consulted with John Deere some time ago about product development because they were losing market share in the big rig business. He told them to go small, like a Bobcat, for instance. Sell more for less. It worked for John Deere.
I can't remember where I read this, but more people are enrolling and graduating from business-type courses than engineering by a wide margin. The lure of Wall Street and the money tree is taking some of the most brilliant minds away from science and engineering. It had to be a "math" mind, not a financial mind, to dream up the derivative ideas.