I don’t think that I’ve gone two weeks without posting in the eight years that I’ve done this blog. Partly, I went almost directly from the MESA International Conference in Orlando to Pack Expo in Las Vegas to Florida (I was working, but also child-sitting my grandson while my granddaughter had some “minor” surgery—all’s well).

What really kept me busy was the two weeks of heavy rains in west Ohio that forced rescheduling of almost half of my soccer schedule. Reassigning referees has me feeling like Tony LaRussa juggling his lineup. I hope I’ve been as successful.

More detailed reports will be coming shortly. Here’s a recap:

MESA International

The association for the promotion of manufacturing enterprise software, aka manufacturing execution systems, held its North American Conference in Orlando Sept. 21-23. Attendance was as high as I’ve seen. There was great networking among the engineers and manufacturing IT people in attendance.

Last year I pitched the idea of holding “unconference” sessions—that is, gatherings of people interested in discussing a topic with no leader (just a guide) and no powerpoints. I guided one and looked in on several others—the discussions were fantastic. There is a value to some presentations, but you can get numb with too many sit-on-your-butt-and-keep-quiet sessions.

MESA leaders would really love to attract a C-level audience and some are disappointed at attracting division and plant level leaders. I tell them that these are the real decision makers. But MESA leaders are looking for ideas for reaching C-level executives with the message that execution-level, that is, level 3, solutions can have a major impact on manufacturing effectiveness and profitability.

Pack Expo

This is known as the “off year” for Pack Expo. Held in Las Vegas rather than Chicago’s McCormick Place and three days rather than four, this event has grown substantially over the past few years. There were three large halls of exhibits and the aisles were crowded on Monday (9/26) and Tuesday (9/27). Wednesday traffic was noticeably lighter—a trade show tradition.

Automation was represented by many exhibitors. Perhaps the key automation event was the resurgence of OMAC for Packaging. I sort of had the feeling that it had accomplished its goals by promulgating PackML, PackTags and the rest of its suite. But end user implementation has been lagging. Bryan Nelson of Nestle has drunk the Kool Aid, though. He has done some internal studies revealing the benefits of implementing PackML, PackTags and on packaging machines. He has been a significant driving force in reorganizing and refocusing the organization. As I remarked to an old friend at the rear of a packed conference room, “This reminds me of the early days of OMAC.” Hopefully this has some staying power.

As for automation technologies, networking was a major topic. Especially Ethernet. Most often mentioned were EtherNet/IP (from ODVA) and EtherCat. For information layers in North America, EtherNet/IP is a clear winner in this area. (I say this with some trepidation, since I’m on a plane bound for Phoenix and the Profibus Internation NA annual meeting. Carl will be waiting for me.) EtherCat seems to have great momentum for networking at the motion control level.

There was also talk of mechatronics and motion control advancements. Especially a very small drive I saw in the Beckhoff booth.

One of the things Nestle likes about PackML is the potential to get machine controllers talking with each other and with the MES. Rockwell Automation, either not wanting to wait or wishing to push some of its inherent advantages, was showing a concept that combined three of its products that will give a packaging line overview for managing and configuring entire lines. It is interesting. I’d like to see how it winds up developing.

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