A different kind of automation conference

Maverick Technologies and ISA created a meeting format, Inside Automation, where they learn from the attendees in an with the intent of sharing best practices and creating an open learning environment.

By Peter Welander May 1, 2015

Maverick Technologies and the International Society of Automation (ISA) hosted a different kind of automation conference from April 21-22. The intent was on engaging with honest-to-goodness end users and following a format light on lectures and heavy on interaction. It wasn’t so much a discussion of what we can do for you, as it was what are you doing, and what can we all learn from each other.

ISA and Maverick worked together to help formulate the program spread across the two days. Maverick CEO Paul Galeski characterized the attendees as the “best and brightest” in the automation industry, and laid out a serious challenge to those around the tables. “If we as the automation community don’t improve manufacturing, who’s going to do it?” he asked. “It’s incumbent upon us to be the best that we can and continue to raise the bar in industry, and that’s what this conference is about.”

In his opening charge, Galeski pointed out there are plenty of theories, but it is the job of the people in the audience to help turn them into reality. He promised ISA will work to institutionalize the best ideas emerging from the discussions.

The agenda called for an examination of four major topics: projects, technology, operations, and looking forward.

The first day began with a keynote address by Dr. Peter Martin from Schneider Electric on unlocking the value of automation. He pointed out that his job was to be the theoretical side of the equation, which is why he was first. After his comments the group discussion turned to projects and project planning, and there was no lack of ideas or interaction.

Attendees were from a variety of industries including oil and gas, chemicals, food, and others. The traditional large automation vendors were conspicuously absent, leaving Maverick’s people to facilitate the discussions. Under these circumstances, the things that really matter to users emerge clearly, and they aren’t necessarily those discussed most often in the trade press and at more conventional conferences. Companies trying to run a plant with a 20-year-old control system don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they’re going to use the Internet of Things (IoT). Those buzz-word topics aren’t top of mind.

Sean McBride, lead analyst, critical infrastructure at iSIGHT Partners, began the first-day afternoon session with what he characterized as a Pragmatic Look at Cyber Security. Even cyber security has not filtered all the way down to end users, with one participant grumbling about “scare tactics” being spread around.

The first day wound up with the attendees breaking into small groups and offering their thoughts on the technologies they saw as showing true promise against those likely to be dismissed as fads. There were many opinions expressed on this topic, and frequent citations of a comment from Martin’s presentation where he characterized some of the new technologies vying for attention as solutions in search of a problem.

Day Two

The second day began with a discussion of the previous day’s comments, along with Galeski considering the changes being driven by workforce demographics.

In the afternoon, Patrick Gouhin, executive director and CEO for ISA, talked about Building the Automation Profession of the Future by finding ways to engage more young people in our industries. He had to face some frank questions as to the value of ISA and where a membership organization will fit into the landscape when young people generally don’t join such groups. The conference wound up with a look to the future and how companies can adapt and improve with all the changes occurring.

Overall, it was indeed an interactive conference and there was much discussion, so by that respect the meeting was a success. But that was not the only goal. In his opening remarks, Galeski offered this challenge: “Let’s work together, come up with new ideas, and make a difference so we can look back six months, a year, or two years from now and say there are ideas that came out of Inside Automation that are now in practice in industry. We made a difference.”

Time will tell. Maverick and ISA intend to make this an annual event, so the interest level next year will say much.

– Peter Welander is a Control Engineering contribution content specialist, pwelander@cfemedia.com 

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Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.