Something Completely Different

This I Promise You Now: This Will Be My First - and Last - Gratuitous Column About...Me

By Aaron Hand

Mine is a face and a name that most of you won't recognize. So I thought perhaps before I start filling this column with information that will (hopefully) help you do your jobs better, I should perhaps let you know what sort of eyes I'm seeing this industry through — the history that brought me here in the first place.

Although I have almost 20 years of experience writing and editing business-to-business magazines in technology and manufacturing sectors, I know that I have a great deal to learn as I delve into your world of machine building, and control and automation, and I hope I can count on you for your help.

And this I promise you now: This will be my first — and last — gratuitous column about…me.

As I write this, I am about two weeks into my new job as Managing Editor for the Control Design brand. I am taking over from Mike Bacidore, who has been promoted to head editorial operations for Plant Services, a sister Putman Media publication. And if there's one thing I've learned in my two weeks here, it's that Mike left behind some mighty big shoes to fill.

As I mentioned, I have spent almost 20 years covering technology and manufacturing — first with Electronic Components magazine in Hong Kong beginning in 1991, then with Photonics Spectra in Massachusetts, and finally for the past 10 years with Semiconductor International. And that is where my experience overlaps a bit with a subset of this industry, in machines for semiconductor manufacturing.

"Back in the day," when the magazine focused more exclusively on mainstream semiconductor manufacturing, my expertise was pinpointed almost entirely on lithography tools and processes. Over the last several years, however, our coverage also diverged more into related technologies such as solar cell manufacturing, and LED and MEMS production. In addition to lithography, I led the magazine into photovoltaics manufacturing coverage (launching PV Society to better serve the market), and have since become more versed in high-brightness LED (HB-LED) manufacturing as well.

Even though the solar and LED industries have their own long histories, in a lot of ways they are much like the semiconductor industry was some 25 years ago. I think this has a tendency to excite people — being part of such pioneering activities. That, combined of course with the semiconductor industry having more than its fair share of layoffs, has driven a lot of people into these burgeoning industries, where standards are not so commonplace, everybody seems to be trying to hang on to their own proprietary know-how, and consequently automation is certainly not what it likely will be just a few years down the road.

What does all of this have to do with controls, you ask? Well, I'm not going to sit here two weeks into the job and pretend I've figured that one out. Let's just say that I have a passing familiarity with an awful lot of the companies that you kind and patient (hint, hint) folks are using in your machine designs. And I understand that each market that you serve has its own level of control and automation expectations; what might work for one machine may not fit the bill at all for another.

I also know that it's time to get down to business, and learn as much as I possibly can in a short amount of time — becoming more than just a little familiar with the technologies and issues at hand.

As I said to the people I talked to last month as I walked the halls of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, "I'm in learning mode." Many machine builders and suppliers alike were kind enough to try to teach me a thing or two about their operations and markets. And as Control Design's Editor-in-Chief Joe Feeley said to me, "Some of it will stick; some of it won't."

I'd love to hear from you about what kinds of machines you're working on, what the specifics are of the markets you serve, how machine controls advances are changing the way you operate, and what key items are still on your wish list. 

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