By Jeremy Pollard, CET
South America is not what I'm prepared to call a developing market. The region might be an emerging market, and I can tell you it has a voracious appetite.
Recently I had the pleasure of being in Bogotá, Colombia, for the first-ever industrial conference on automation and control. I shared the stage with Dick Morley, "father" of the PLC; Jen-Yves Fiset, an expert in human-machine systems; Rick Caldwell, president of Scadaware; and Jaime Tobar Losada of Dolphin Engineering, a local system integrator.
This was a SCADA/HMI conference that drew paying attendees from across South America. It's similar to the late ISA show and conference, but smaller. This was the first year, and we are sure it will be an ongoing event.
What's important about this event? For me, it was an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the movers and shakers in the South American industrial world, as well as some of the users on the continent. I was very impressed with the way that the conference was organized and implemented. We could learn some things here.
This conference was not about money, marketing and promotion. There were exhibits that accompanied the conference, but the attendees were there to learn. Black swans, alarming, predictive maintenance integration, human factors in design, and proper SCADA-design criteria were all on the table.
The feedback from the audience was astounding. The Q&A could have gone on forever. This is why it was important. It really does show how far behind some of these industries are, and how thirsty its employees are for applied knowledge.
One of the attendees asked whether the gap between the "have" and "have-not" countries is widening. Now it becomes about the money. In the U.S. and Canada, we have the most diverse group of automation professionals. We have access to education, resources, communities and technology. Bogotá is a city of 7 million people. Our tour guide said there are three universities in Bogotá, and one was the very best in Colombia. It can accommodate 14,000 students.
The math says not everyone can pursue higher-level learning. What about automation training? Based on the audience, it's clear that they're pretty much left to their own devices.
They have big dreams for their economies and their livelihoods. I don't think they can do it without us—the automation community—and yes, we can earn some dough for doing it.
Spanish language abilities are an asset for anyone, and if you are in the training business, you can provide big-time value. I must tell you that the real-time translation that occurred during the conference suggests that you can hire locally and do the training in English.
System integration could be a very valuable asset to bring into this community. Dolphin Engineering provides a good service, but it doesn't have the resources to handle a larger project. Could an integrator of the stature of Maverick Technologies partner with a Dolphin Engineering to increase market awareness and, of course, the bottom lines?
Users are scrambling for support and services. While South America is an emerging mining and oil and gas titan, the smaller industries and small manufacturing requirements seem to be astounding. I was told Colombia is still a Third World country. That might be true, but the hotel in which we stayed was modern with great Internet service—at $13 a day (they knew how to charge for that because, yes, it is a U.S. hotel chain).
One of my presentations dealt with connecting predictive maintenance techniques with maintenance management software. When I asked the audience how many of them were implementing CMMS in their facilities, nary a hand went up.
The questions the audience asked suggested that they are about where we were 10-20 years ago.
Here are links to some of the event coverage: www.reporteroindustrial.com/seminarios/scada/introduccion.html and www.reporteroindustrial.com/ri/secciones/RI/ES/MAIN/IN/NARTICULOS/doc_79257_HTML.html?idDocumento=79257.
We can help them and ourselves.