On the road again: 6 takeaways from 5 industrial events

Thomas Wilk is taking a deep breath to recap the best of the busy season.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

It's been a busy past six weeks with the fall event season shifting into high gear. Plant Services' first stop was in September at the Turbomachinery and Pump Symposia in Houston where, perhaps unsurprisingly, the impact of current oil prices on 2016 project planning was top of mind with both presenters and attendees. These concerns did not stop presenters from delivering information on their latest innovations, including a very inspiring joint case study by the Southwest Research Institute and PEMEX on how they designed a pump system simulator that enabled safe operator training on new screw pump equipment as well as on a variety of operational scenarios over the entire system.

Next up was the inaugural Smart Industry event in Chicago, which explored the present and future of smart manufacturing with a focus on how organizations can leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to drive improved operational efficiency and uptime. The session "Is Your Plant-Floor Network IIoT Ready?" included Armin Puhringer, business development manager at Hilscher, who suggested that migration of plant equipment to the IIoT isn't completely disruptive: "All the technologies we see in this context are existing technologies" but that "implementing infrastructure as a service (IaaS) will change the way people do automation."

This same focus on the transformational power of the IIoT was echoed at this year's Schneider Electric Software User's conference, also held in Chicago. Çağlayan Arkan, general manager of Microsoft’s Worldwide Manufacturing and Resources team, gave a passionate address on "Business Transformation with IIoT, Cloud, and Mobility," starting with a description of the current competitive landscape as "disrupt or be disrupted." Emphasizing big data's increasing importance to industrial manufacturing, Arkan admonished that "the data, whether you call it big data, or small data, or complex data, will give you a lot of new insights, but they are only as good as the actions you take on them, and those actions are only as good at the outcomes they deliver for you."

Managing Editor Christine LaFave Grace headed to Denver in October for the 2015 Emerson Global Users Exchange. The theme of the event was "Elevate Your Expertise", which she reports was echoed by Steven Sonnenberg, executive vice president of Emerson and president of Emerson Process Management, with the simple observation that "reliability doesn't get the respect it deserves." Too often today, Sonnenberg said, reliability is still seen as a focus for just a few large pieces of equipment. Expanding the focus of reliability efforts can, in the simplest terms, lead to less downtime and more profit, he said. (Read Grace's full report at http://plnt.sv/EEX-01.)

The Annual SMRP Conference took place that same week in Cincinnati, and of all the terrific event sessions, the one that resonated most with attendees was Cam Marston's keynote at SMRP. Marston and his firm Generational Insights provide provided research and consultation on generational issues, and for his SMRP keynote he tackled the issue of workforce change in industrial plants. In particular, he pointed out the special challenges that GenX managers face (35-50 years old), suggesting that this group needs to better recognize the value of face time ("Be visible. Be seen. Get out there. Interact!") and of building consensus through regular meetings and other forms of encouragement.

Saving the best for last. Marston also addressed how to effectively integrate the next generation into the plant workplace, first pointing out that in general, Millennials experience the exact life stages as other generations, just at much older ages: "Don’t expect the junior generations to have the same experiences and wisdom you had at their same age. There will be gaps. Accept this – there is no alternative."

His key advice in this critical area? Engage with younger workers with this gap on mind, remembering that no one from any of the generation has ever had a say in their upbringing, and focusing on the power of mentoring and a powerful first impression to attract and retain the best new talent.

See you on the road!

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