WBF and MCAA Meet In the Chicago Suburbs

Around the Loop: Spring Control Industry Highlights

In May, the World Batch Forum (WBF www.wbf.org) and the Measurement, Control & Automation Association (MCAA www.measure.org) convened their respective annual meetings in the outskirts of Chicago.


The opening event of the 11th World Batch Forum was my favorite trade journal's Process Automation Hall of Fame dinner.


This year, CONTROL inducted three distinguished practitioners: Ted Williams, retired chair of Purdue’s Laboratory for Industrial Control, Tom Stout, retired founder of Profimatics, the original control systems integrator (circa 1965), and Terry Blevins, veteran controls professional at Emerson Process Management. Stout, implementer of the first closed-loop computer control system (Texaco, Port Arthur, Texas see "Around the Loop" August, 1992), remains very active in professional registration for control engineers. Williams, pioneer implementer of DDC and hierarchical control systems at Monsanto prior to organizing arguably the most important academic center for industrial automation, is compiling a history of the 380th Bombardment Group, his Army Air Force unit in the Pacific Theatre during WW II (see "Around the Loop" May, 1993). Blevins, a graduate of the Purdue Center founded by Williams, traced progress in the controls profession as well as continuing requirements for future progress.


 "The WBF keynote focused on the proliferation of dialects and encryptions used by IT professionals and, by extension, controls professionals."


The WBF keynote presented by Skip Holmes of Proctor & Gamble ("Lessons from the Tower of Babel") focused on the proliferation of dialects and encryptions used by IT professionals and, by extension controls professionals, which are not comprehensible outside a tight inner circle (what or who, by the way, is B2MML). Holmes admonished the controls professionals to translate their technical concerns into the language of business: savings, efficiency, quality, ROI, etc. when making the case for project funding. The same theme (technical- managerial communication) appears later in the user panel at the MCAA Executive Forum.


Proctor & Gamble was a major presenter at WBF. Other specialty chemicals producers offering technical presentations included Millennium Specialty Chemicals, Rohm and Haas, Dow Reichhold and Honeywell (Allied). Another well-represented industry on the technical program was Pharmaceuticals, with papers from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Jansen Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly and Genentech.


About 80 industry executives attended the MCAA Executive Forum, held the same week as WBF. The Executive Forum has become the premier event for process controls manufacturers and related sales channel partners as well as publishers and consultants.


One of the highlight sessions featured a customer panel commenting on critical concerns facing the instrumentation vendors. The panel included end-users from three important industries (pharmaceuticals, power and specialty chemicals) as well as an engineering design firm.


The relationship between the user-specifier and the independent manufacturer’s representative, who are a vital sales channel for most vendors, was a key topic. Experienced manufacturer’s reps have traditionally been mentors to young customer engineers and can steer them around costly pitfalls which are usually chalked up as "experience." This crucial value-add is often transparent to management and purchasing who are sensitive to the "pennies" while the "pounds" slip by unnoticed.


Clearly, management and purchasing are critical functions. It is incumbent on engineering and operations to make the case that instruments are typically selected for their unique capabilities and are not generally interchangeable. One panelist cited instances where purchasing substituted lower-cost replacements for specified instruments.


Instruments are relatively small potatoes in the great scheme of plant purchases and are probably a headache for the purchasing department. Regardless, process control professionals need to dialog with their purchasing counterparts and stress the major negative consequences of selecting instrumentation on price only. Service, pre- and post- installation, from sales professionals who know your process and your people must be considered when weighing the total value to your operations.


Donna Takeda, former industry analyst for Merrill Lynch and perhaps the leading Wall Street guru on our industry, presented MCAA’s annual financial ratios survey. Responses from 37 MCAA members were tabulated representing about 25% of the North American process control market. Total revenues of the survey group were just under $3.5 billion in 2003 up slightly from 2002. Net income was also up by 2.2%, while total assets grew by 11%. Over the last five years (1999-2003), a difficult period for instrumentation firms, investment spending (R&D+Capital Spending) by this industry has remained above 6% of total revenues. Measurement, control and automation firms have weathered a rough patch and are seen as an attractive area for investment. Controls professionals take notice.



Terrence K. McMahon

McMahon Technology Associates

135 Fort Lee Road

Leonia, NJ  07605

Tel: 201-585-2050

Fax: 201-585-1968


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