Much done more to do Automation Week 2010

See other opinions from blogs linked at the bottom of the page!

The last ISAExpo took place in Houston (TX US) in 2009. It had been flagging somewhat in the previous years and it was thought that a new format would better serve the automation community. The format decided upon was a “Technology and Solutions Event” which would have streams of talks and forums with a small support exhibition. This was to be called Automation Week and the first occurred in the first week of October 2010.

Greg McMillan, ISA Life Achievement Award, with President Nelson Ninan and 2008 President Kim Dunn

The event started, like all good events, the night before with ISA’s annual – it was the 48thHonours & Awards Gala, during which fourteen awards were presented to thirty individuals or organizations who had made invaluable contributions to the automation profession. Among these Greg McMillan achieved the life achievement award of the society: “In recognition of a 40-year career of innovation in process control technology through invention, publication of articles, papers and books, as well as teaching the application of control theory.” (He recounts his memories on his blog, The most important week of my career!)

ISA Automation Week’s various tracks were to offer conference topics centered on the most critical issues in industry including safety, energy concerns, and compliance at industrial facilities, best practice and applications. The tracks were run under the broad headings

    • Automation and Control
    • Energy
    • Environmental
    • Human Asset Optimization
    • Safety
    • Security
    • Wireless and Networking

The pre-event blurb stated: “ISA Automation Week is an in-depth technical conference with a focused exhibit component featuring over 100 vendors. It will deliver critical knowledge on the theory and application of automation technologies in processing and manufacturing environments through vendor-neutral content across seven technical tracks. As an integral part of the conference, vendor exhibits will supplement technical sessions with hands-on, real-world solutions and networking opportunities. Each session has been designed with specific content for five identified career paths: Engineer, Technician, Management, Marketing, and Academia/R&D/Scientist. Using the PathFinder tool, attendees can create a unique combination of sessions covering topics across all tracks, for a comprehensive look at their profession.”

So was it?

Well yes and no!

Certainly it was a comprehensive if unadventurous conference programme. I understand that conference attendance was up on the conference component of the old ISAExpo with a figure of over 1500 quoted.

Jon DiPietro delivers "Social Networking Tools for the Engineer."

Discussions on security were particularly apt in view of the Stuxnet worm discovered in July.  The talks on Human Asset Optimization were also good featuring items on education, training and how to attract youth to the automation profession. (This latter drawing on mentoring experience in the Atlanta ISA section (delivered by Glynn Mitchell of the section), the US defense industry and Canadian expertise). This track also featured the only exposé on social networking and how it is changing  (has changed?) our way of getting out there using the “inbound marketing” model from DomesticatingIT’s indefatigable Jon DiPietro, who is also received the ISA’s Emerging Leader Award. Safety too is an important issue and was the subject of one of the keaynotes as we will mention later.

The rooms in which the presentations were made has a design problem in that they tended to be too large and without side aisles which would have facilitated late entrants not disturbing the more prompt attendees. The talks were by and large well attended and as far as I could see there was excellent audience participation despite these drawbacks. Problems like this could have been surmounted without much difficulty or any cost and I think  the organisers will have been on a steep learning curve for the next event.

The talks were unbiased as one has come to expect from ISA. This is an important aspect when one considers the number of vendor supported user group meetings which are no proliferating the scene. As against that it seemed to lack a certain excitement that some of the user group events generate.  There was no “tweet-up” for instance, which would have been nice. However there was some web broadcasting of sessions which was good and more importantly was in fact used by people who could not attend. The forum for attendees called Conference 2 was a brave initiative and after a slow start people seemed to get the idea and some interesting posts ensued. Contributors were those who had registered for the Conference and further signed up to this forum. Using this facility attendees could make out a personal schedule for the event. 235 of the attendees signed up, which was not at all bad for a new kind of participation. Kudos to ISA for intiative in this but there was one small catch if you hadn’t paid the exhorbitant fees demanded by the host hotel or did not have an internet connection -and as an European I had not – then you could not access or refer to this schedule. But more on this later.

They deserve kudos too for the PathFinder tool, unique as far as I can make out for such an event, which allowed various career individuals to customise the event to their individual job function and goals. Technicians, Engineers, Management, Marketing, and Academia/R&D/Scientists were guided as to the best conference path to take.

Part of Exhibition Area (pic marketguy48)

The venue itself was, to my mind, unsuitable as it did not allow for a  cohesive event, some meetings being across a shopping mall from the main events and up a lift (to the 24th floor. The exhibition area was an odd shape, although the eating, and drinking, areas were arranged to facilitate the viewing of stands or booths in areas that otherwise might have been missed. The design of the main registration area also was not very open, hidden as it was in part by a formal staircase which led to the exhibition area. Finally, and perhaps most seriously of all, as we have mentioned earlier, there was not free internet or wi-fi available at the venue. This was not entirely the fault of ISA as the hotel venue (Westin Galleria),  follows an unfortunately common policy of charging exhorbitant rates for this most basic of facilities for the modern business. An unfortunate byproduct of this lacuna was that live tweets from the event were few and far between in marked contrast with the almost constant tweet traffic engendered by the Emerson even in nearby city of San Antonio the previous week.  (By contrast this correspondant stayed in a hotel nearby with free internet access as part of the service.)

I have heard various reports, unrelenting bad from people who were not there and a mixture from those who were. The main complaint that I heard was that the exhibition area was closed during the time that the seminars were in progress. I think that there is a case for closing the exhibition floor during say the first half hour of the conferences sessions, and then to re-open. This would facilitate the conference registrends going promptly to their chosen topic.  It would also enable these same people to go into the exhibition if their particular talk finished earlier than indicated on the timetable.

The other complaint voiced, not only at the event itself but also prior to it at the ISA governance meetings that preceded Automation Week, was that the Exhibition was not open to non conference attendees, not even to people who were attending the various ISA Standards meetings being held during that week unless they had paid the conference fee. I did in fact speak to some of these “standard bearers” who  could only attend the exhibition component on the Monday afternoon when it was freely open.This seemed to me a bit shortsighted of the organisers.

I also heard from exhibitors but didn’t see first hand nor was I able to confirm. Some exhibitors (who presumably had not read the pre-event literature) had invited possible customers to meet them at the exhibition who were turned away at the door unless they paid the day fee for the conference. As I say I cannot confirm this particular complaint. Teething troubles like these perhaps might have been expected to have been ironed out before hand.

OK that’s enough of the cribs.

ISA has to be congratulated on providing two excellent keynote speakers in Dean Kamen, founder of an organisation that fosters and encourages young schoolgoers to embrace science and technology, called FIRST. We have written our comments on his address in another blog “Dean Kamen enthuses Automation Week!”.  Suffice it to say of the many ISA Keynotes I have attended this was by far the most inspirational. Yes it was an appeal for support for his organisation but it was also inspirational and moving.

The speaker on day two was also extremely interesting. David Cummins of  the DuPont organisation. He outlined the strategys that should be used to ensure personnel and plant safety colouring his presentation with the forward thing attitude of the DuPont founder,  E. C. DuPont, in the early 19th century, an attitude that many companies could well emulate in formulating safety policies the 21st.

The meals, provided as part of the entrance fee, was of excellent quality, though the lack of a place to sit down in the Exhibition area and outside foyer was a problem.

Dick Morley - Father of the PLC

For many however the highlight of the event was on Tuesday night when we took off  our spurs and moseyed on in for a cowboy buffet dinner and bar, served in a light-hearted Texas setting straight out of the Old West!  The blurb said, “Grab some vittles – and then hang on to your 10-gallon hat! You’re in for a unique evening of music and entertainment, culminating in a very special appearance by one of the most recognized, creative and extraordinary intellects in these here parts – automation’s own Dick “Barn Stormer” Morley.”

And he was in superb form giving his unique perspective in stories with unique and abandoned mixture of  fiction and stimulating fact. That and the fact that he shared his extraordinary orgasmic chocolate as a climax to the presentation. Nuff said!

Carlo Schafer - from freak to geek!

An unexpected highlight of this evening however was ISA’s very own Carol “Cow Tip” Schafer and her famous Red Guitar as she set the stage with some music and fun to get the evening  started. I doubt if many will forget her “Geek Song “ where she recounted her transformation from “freak to geek,” and had everyone in stitches with her topical verses. Hopefully somebody sometime – and I hope soon – will put her on utube. She deserves to go viral.

All in all I think we can say it was an interesting conference, a learning experience for exhibitors and for ISA, not as good or exciting as we might have hoped but by no means an abject failure. We might say “they done good but they could’ve done better!” And from what I have seen of the preparations for the next Automation Week they will provide an event and a venue much more close to the promise for this year’s.

Mark you diaries therefore for ISA Automation Week 2011, in the deep south of the United States, in Mobile, Alabama from 17-20 October, 2011.

See you there.

Here are some more links:

BLOGTwo hectic Automation Weeks! The tweeting Hashtag is #ISAwk 

Dean Kamen enthuses Automation Week!

Recorded webcasts at Automation Week

Tour the Cosa & Xentaur booth (YouTube ca 4 Minutes)

News releases at Automation Week:

ISA Automation Week: Wrap-up (ISA Release 19th October)

  • ASCO Numatics announces scholorships
  • FDT Group Releases
  • Iconics Releases
  • IET joins Automation Federation

  • Comments on other blogs!

  • ISA Automation Week Conference – Gary Mintchell looks forward and back 24th Jan 2011
  • Profibus at #ISAwk
  • Ian Verhappen comments
  • ISA’s Automation Federation Wags the Dog Walt Boyes – 14th Oct 2010
  • ISA Automation Week 2010 – The Most Important Week in my Career Greg McMillan – 15th Oct 2010
  • Video Essay on conference season in automation from Gary Mintchel – 16 Oct 2010
  • ISA continues downhill slide (Jim Pinto – 21 Oct 2010)
  • Debacle or basis for developement? (Eoin Ó Riain 22 Oct 2010)
  • ISA Automation Week 2010 Wrap-up ( 27 Oct 2010)
  • Some pictures taken at event – not good quality but perhaps give a flavour!

    Honour & Awards Dinner (4 Oct)

    The Official H&A Photos

    #ISAwk Days 1 & 2 (5th & 6th Oct)

    Jon DiPietro’s Pictures(On Facebook!)

    More Pics (marketguy48 on yfrog)

    More pics on the ISA Automation Flickr Site.

    ISA Automation Week 2011 will be held at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center in Mobile, (AL US), on 17-20 October, 2011.


    Did you attend Automation Week 2010? What did you think? The Automation Week Forum would like your honest (and positive) opinions. Only registered attendees can participate so it will be a truly “experiential” critique!

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