Changing market cycles have affected my entire career. Product category booms and busts, especially in the 80s, affected the types of positions and companies where I worked. Today, there are few jobs and companies where you can start and end your career and make a good financial living at it.

Even when I ditched the manufacturing world and became a magazine editor, the cycles still affected me (and most of us, right?).

I just replied to a marketing person who pitched a new survey release. Press releases over the past couple of years have featured more surveys than new products. There are so many surveys that I am amazed that you all can actually get work done. That company is referring to “Industry 5.0.” 

The CTO of Aras, a PLM company that I visited earlier this year, described the five industry contexts:

  • Mechanization
  • Electrification
  • Automation
  • Digitalization (where we have been for the past few years)
  • Cognitive (where we are beginning to reside)

Let us chart the manufacturing and production trade press. The early ones jumped on the electrification—which I translate in our space to include not only motors and drives but also early instrumentation and connectivity.

I joined the media industry with Control Engineering. That would be the toward the end of electrification with PLCs replacing relay control and drives getting smarter and motion control increasingly incorporated into the control system rather than stand alone applications.

A small group of us started Automation World, which as editor-in-chief, I defined as control plus information. Thus began better control plus improved programming, HMI/SCADA coming into its own, the fieldbus and wireless “wars,” and bringing more IT into OT.

Digitalization began 10 or so years ago with things like improved networking, connecting and dispersing more intelligent devices called Industrial Internet of Things (just a marketing euphemism), databases, analytics, improved visualization.

Some people (or marketers) think that some form of Artificial (Augmented?) Intelligence will capture the next phase. What I see is a marketing term that tries to capture attention. What I seldom see are definitions of the varieties of AI. Do they mean machine learning and neural networks that we’ve used for decades? Do they mean large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT, Claude, Co-Pilot?

Perhaps the cognitive will actually be “autonomous.” Examples could be autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) or self-driving automobiles and trucks. I’ve referenced a paper emanating from ABB about the coming of “autonomous control.”

What I’ve tried to do at Automation World (until the changes of 2011-12) and then at The Manufacturing Connection since 2013 is to explain the changing technology and application ecosystem through the lens of news that comes my way—products, applications, surveys.

Thank you to the 200,000 of you who stop by to look every month. That number is small compared to consumer influencers or other such social media types. But it is a large number in the market I’m trying to serve. 

There’s not much income in this space anymore. But it’s still fun writing about better ways to make stuff. There are few companies left that will sponsor such writing and thinking. A big thank you to Inductive Automation for its long-time support. Over the years, I’ve worked on custom industry research and analysis for several clients. Also my current client, Quickbase and former clients Dell Technologies and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. (The IT companies discovered that manufacturing may not be as lucrative a market as they thought.) 

What’s next? We’ll see. I’m focusing more on empowering individual humans more than ever.

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