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WHAT'S IN A NAME? In an industry where there are more and more user groups and organizations -- all vying for our time and money -- it is gratifying to know that there is still an organization that caters to automation and manufacturing professionals. I joined about 150 other professionals May 15-18 in Atlantic City at WBF's 2005 North American conference and felt at the close that I had attended one of the best WBF conferences in recent years. The variety and content of the presentations, the side meetings, networking, and so many other things made this a truly outstanding meeting. Even the weather cooperated; the forecast called for rain, but the sun shone through for the whole conference period.
During my opening remarks, I made the announcement that we are modifying our name. Why? WBF's board had recognized that while we started out primarily as an organization supporting the rollout of ISA-88, for some time now we have addressed areas not solely allied to batch. These include cyber security, safety systems, ISA-88 for continuous control, packaging systems, ERP/DCS integration, people issues and others. The board also recognized that WBF is a well-recognized name in the batch industry, but we wanted to reach out to automation and manufacturing professionals in other allied industries, too, while continuing to serve our core batch membership. So , we have retained the WBF acronym with a tag line: The Forum for Automation and Manufacturing Professionals. In this way we are recognizing that our roots are in batch, but that we are now serving a wider professional audience.
To that end, the two conference keynotes by Dave Beckmann and Ian Nimmo addressed the human issues around the design and operation of automation systems. Beckmann discussed the engineer becoming a knowledge worker and Nimmo the systems support needed by an operator to safely run today's production processes. Beckmann contended that in the future, due to the lack of new blood coming into engineering, professionals in our industry would be in the same demand as doctors are today. He talked about the possibility that one day we may have some exciting TV programs related to engineering…any offers for CSI: Control Systems Investigators?
Nimmo shared his experiences on control systems evolution and the fact that a modern DCS can be an operator's nightmare if not designed properly. However it also has the same tools that can make his life so much easier. Nimmo told us all about situation awareness -- using the system to make sure that an operator has the information to know what is happening around him and can easily take action to correct issues.
Rodger Jeffery also discussed a number of alliances that WBF is now either active in or pursuing in support of our wider reach into the industry. We are in discussions with MESA and CSIA and have an active joint working group -- Make 2 Pack -- with OMAC and ISA to develop an ISA-88 standard for packaging equipment. In addition, our XML schemas working group is still going strong. Both Make 2 Pack and XML had sessions at the conference hotel after the event.
Our members have asked us for help with support and certification of B2MML schemas, so the WBF board is looking at options for providing this along with application training.
The quality of the presentations once again was very good. But, as usual, the major benefit for many was the networking. The sponsor exhibition was even better attended than last year's, with MESA, CSIA and ISA in attendance along with our sponsors. Many attendees stayed for the final sessions on Wednesday morning and were well rewarded by some excellent panel discussions on ISA-88 and ISA-95, and how suppliers are addressing user needs.
Going back to the start of the conference, the ISA-88 and ISA-95 training sessions are always seen as great value by those who attend. WBF is now planning on delivering one- to two-day versions of these either at regional centers or at a member site. The current plan is to run one session of each course in the Philadelphia area sometime in Fall. Watch the website (www.wbf.org) for details. We then will put a plan together to add more sessions, including our popular ISA-88 clinics and possibly an ISA-95 clinic.
So, we are heading into exciting times and I feel that WBF is turning a corner, reaching out to more people. I fully expect the look and feel of our next conference in 2006 to be different from this year's, with more additional meetings going on at the same venue and WBF being the "melting pot" for all of these: a true Forum for Automation and Manufacturing Professionals.
There is more information about the conference and related activities on the WBF website - http://www.wbf.org/. If you would like to get involved with WBF, please get in touch with our association management staff at the numbers or e-mail shown on the website.
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