Distant optimism shines through the gloom

The rough economic environment is thawing, according to the moods expressed at the Manufacturing Strategies Forum held by ARC in Orlando. But although there is optimism for the world’s economies, automation suppliers still have a tough road ahead.

In his opening address to the Forum ARC’s president Andy Chatha suggested that there were easier ways to make money than in manufacturing at the moment. However, Chatha expressed optimism that a recovery was on the way and that industry confidence was growing.

Industry commentators agree that the automation industry had one of its worst years ever in 2001. Manufacturers have continued to consolidate and reduce their spending by squeezing costs and focusing more on their core competencies.

To stay competitive, manufacturers are having to squeeze the maximum benefit from existing physical and intellectual assets.

Speakers at the Forum were unanimous in their belief that industry was moving toward a performance-based culture and that the reliance on product based automation was a thing of the past. These days manufacturers are looking for collaboration from their suppliers. Don Davis, who is chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation has been in industry for 39 years and is now backing open systems and a move away from a product based strategies of the past.

Rockwell will continue to build its solutions and services businesses both internally and through acquisitions similar to the recently acquired Propack Data, which will serve as Rockwell’s centre for worldwide pharmaceutical industry support.

After completing many acquisitions over the past decade, ABB has become one of the largest suppliers of automation products and solutions to manufacturing companies. Don Aiken, President of the North American ABB, suggested that the biggest challenge facing users today is to optimise their business through the effective use of intellectual assets. Users must choose supplier partners that will help them achieve this important goal.

At the same time, suppliers are continuing to consolidate, leaving users with decreased options for systems and solutions as well as support for existing installed systems. In ABB’s view, collaborative partnerships are critical to implementation of a successful collaborative manufacturing strategy.

Aiken stressed the importance of an integrated software environment that connects heterogeneous systems such as control, electric power, and instrumentation along with strong vertical industry expertise.