Nothing says November like Automation Fair in Chicago.
As much as I enjoy traveling to other great cities for this annual user event, the ones in the Windy City bring a shine of big-city swag that dare not be missed.
That has never been more evident than this year, when more than 15,000 individuals, most of them Rockwell Automation customers, flooded the floors and halls of McCormick Place last month. Old friends and familiar faces were everywhere. While the primary thread of the conference and exhibition was The Connected Enterprise, the opportunities to connect with long-standing colleagues and make new acquaintances abounded. And my favorite place to meet is over lunch.
Each year, I find myself drawn to the safety pavilion on the exhibit floor, but this year I had the good fortune to meet up with Mark Eitzman in the lunch line during Automation Perspectives, a day before the exhibition opened. Eitzman is market development manager, safety, at Rockwell Automation and one of my favorite people to talk with each year.
We discussed some of the finer points regarding the connection between safety and security, in light of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). And, as we recommended some of our favorite safety-related white papers to each other, it reminded me that he is one of the best-informed people I know on all things safety.
Using remote-monitoring capabilities to determine whether a system is safe for startup is certainly a viable application of a network, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the big-picture connection between security and safety. I'm not sure whether combining them makes sense within an organization, but I'm still keeping an open mind and listening to the logic behind it.
Jerry Saxton, CAD technician at Systems Control in Waukesha, Wisconsin, was a great lunch partner on my second day. I could have spent the afternoon talking with him about what's happening in the world of machine building, controls and automation.
Saxton's company makes control centers for substations, but I could tell from talking with him that his knowledge of programmable controllers went much deeper.
What I found most compelling about our conversation was the talk of robots and the way they're changing how equipment is designed and built. As sensing devices become ubiquitous and the robots themselves become less expensive and easier to program, their integration will only continue to grow.
No conference would be complete without a discussion of manufacturing execution systems (MES), especially within the context of IIoT.
Turning data into wisdom is the focal point of The Connected Enterprise, and the area where that can have the biggest impact is in optimizing production. What luck! On the final day of the event, I sat down to lunch with Todd Montpas, product manager, information software, Rockwell Automation.
We talked some about the resurgence of the Detroit area, where he lives and works, despite the exodus of engineering know-how. But ultimately we landed on how to leverage software, specifically MES, and make manufacturing more profitable now that connectivity puts exabytes of data at our fingertips.
I'm already looking forward to Automation Fair 2016 in Atlanta. Only time will tell whom I'll join for lunch and memorable conversations. Maybe it will be you. My stomach is growling already.