Day 2, or my first full day in Dallas at the 2015 Schneider Electric Global Automation conference, was packed with sessions, meetings, and dinner.
Keynotes at a user conference are always a mixed bag. Usually there is a well-known author or leader to give a motivational message. Usually the CEO gives a state-of-the-company address. And then there are product announcements.
Gary Freberger, who leads the automation business, gave just a short update mostly dwelling on the market size of the business that resulted from combining the Foxboro/Triconex process automation business with the Modicon business that already existed within Schneider. Schneider Electric now has far more market clout than before. My take is that this could have a subtle change in industry dynamics in the future.
Connection and Behavior Change
Tom Koulopoulos, chairman and founder of Delphi Group, a Boston-based think tank, gave the “author/leader/motivational” keynote. He was also promoting his new book, The Gen Z Effect. Like many technologist speakers I’ve heard, he watches his kids and extrapolates to the entire generation.
However, he left us with two very important thoughts. First, it’s not about the technology. It’s about changing behaviors. And those of us who have implemented automation in our lives know that unless it changes the behaviors of the operators, it will not work.
The second thought is that beyond human behavior, it’s about connections. He posits that connections have brought us to this point over the last 300 years and connections will take us forward.
Then he left us with a little flow chart of what is happening:
Real-time analytics–>Predictive analytics–>Business Intelligence
This really does reflect where we are moving with Industrial Internet of Things and contemporary manufacturing strategy.
Solve World Hunger
Peter Martin, Schneider vice president (and one of several visionaries), always presents well. This year his presentation was better than usual. There were essentially two main points—let’s go back to our roots as control engineers while expanding the scope of what we’re controlling, and let’s recognize the value of control engineers and be aware of what we can contribute to the world.
He began by discussing an early science project which had way too large of a scope. The teach kept saying, “Peter, don’t try to solve world hunger.”
Well…fast forward to today. Martin also left us with a little flow chart of sorts:
Use our control expertise to solve problems of energy generation and transmission –>
Half-a-million children die each year due to tainted water; desalination is an energy problem; solve energy problem leads to solving water problem –>
If we can build a PGA golf course in Dubai through solving the water problem, we can build gardens in Africa. So we could solve world hunger –>
We can also solve environment by solving energy. In India, a petrochemical plant grew a mango forest to absorb carbons –>
Solve environment problem leads to solving world health.
I have known Peter for more than 10 years. One of his consistent themes is that engineers are undervalued—and they often under value themselves.
By golly, we could solve world hunger. We could miss the opportunity of a lifetime by thinking too narrowly.
Our day jobs
Automation is the platform upon which we build control. We need to do a few things.
Plants organize with an asset topology. Automation uses a technological topology. We need to reduce the complexity of the automation topology and make it align better with the plant topology. But the installed base is an anchor holding us back. “So, migration becomes really exciting.”
By enabling personalized automation, we no longer eliminate people. We begin to use people to their fullest extent. Forget the lights-out industry talk.
“Have we pushed the limits of control to the furthest extent? We have a long way to go. Discipline of control engineering is just beginning. We must improve efficiency in a safe manner. Business has shifted from highly transactional to real-time. And historically we have separated plant floor from business. Business results get to operations too late to react. We have moved to a real-time control problem because the time constraints of business have shrunk. We need real-time business control as well as real-time process control.”
“I’ve been told that the age of the control engineer is over; No, the age of the control engineer is just beginning. We’ve just changed what we’re controlling. Look at maintenance, asset performance, reliability, it’s all changing in real-time. If we measure in real time and apply real-time control, then we can manage it. Efficiency, reliability, profitability, security, safety, environment. And forget calling people ‘labor,’ but instead call them ‘production managers’ for that is what they really are. Let’s just enable them.”
Martin concluded, “Challenge us to create value-driven innovation across all domains. Keep our eye on our value.”