Salute the new enablers

Visitors to this year’s ISA Expo will have been impressed by the trend away from product development and the move towards the new technologies. Speakers at the conference sessions stressed the growing importance of e-commerce and the internet enablement of control and automation systems. We are changing the way we think, the way we manufacture and the way we supply.

There is much talk of the new enablers. One, quite naturally, is technology. The computers and software now at our disposal mean that all things can be automated and integrated into practical systems. Past hurdles of non-conformance and lack of standards so that data was not universal are largely being overcome. We now have emerging fieldbus standards, XML, TCP/IP and of course the excellent OPC standard to ensure that our computers and networks ‘all sing from the same hymn sheet’.

But is technology enough? We have to know how to apply the technology, mend it when it breaks and get the best out it once it is installed. According to Jim Nyquist, president of Emerson Performance Solutions: outsourcing is another key enabler. Technology and information management is moving so fast that we can only rely on expert consultants, who have made IT their core competency and have the resource to keep up to date with their chosen profession [see also p17]. Most manufactures in the process industries no longer have engineering departments, preferring to outsource control engineer and automation systems work to integrators and consultants. But where does management draw the line. Should technical support be the next thing to go outside, then we must fear for the future of customer support which so often led to product evolution in the past