The Future of Process Manufacturing

What Are You Going to Do When Your Most Experienced Operator Retires?

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Setting the stage will be two keynote speakers, Eddie Habibi, the founder and CEO of PAS (www.pas.com) and myself.

The conference theme, "Focus on the Future," is targeted to help you build your company's global competitive capability.

Habibi's talk, "KM is dead! Long Live Collaboration!" will look at how 21st-century technologies will forever transform knowledge retention and retrieval. Over the past three decades, knowledge management (KM) technologies have yielded mixed results and, more often than not, have failed to deliver the high-value benefits they promised. In addition,  traditional KM approaches require significant initial effort and cost to implement, rely on humans to follow strict procedures, and are challenging to maintain. In fact, it is very hard to get experts to tell you what part of what they know is important and useful, and what part is "magical thinking." ("Why do you do that?" "Because that is what they told me to do it 15 years ago when I started here.") Also, KM systems do not easily integrate with daily work processes, and most important, are difficult to retrieve context-based information from.

Web 2.0 is fast replacing and making obsolete the whole notion of KM. Collectively, wikis, blogs, Twitter and other social media are transforming the way humans interact with and share information. The process automation industry, traditionally conservative in adopting breakthrough technologies, is warming up to the idea of Web 2.0 as a modern platform for aggregating, contextualizing and sharing critical information and knowledge. This is especially important as it directly impacts the accuracy of the decisions made by plant personnel in mitigating abnormal situations and optimizing plant operations.

In my presentation, I plan to ask the question, "Digital Native Operations—Is There an App for That?"

We hear much about the looming skills gap and the fact that many of today's process operators lack the necessary high-tech skills. But, they have an excuse; they are digital immigrants. They were born in the days when blackberries and apples were fruits, and the only use for a phone was for making phone calls. Having said that, has technology been used to its best effect in the process industries to help these operators? What has happened that may have been avoided with the use of currently available technology? Is it too late to get these operators on board?

And, wait—who's that coming to the rescue? It's the "digital natives," who were born into digital technology, and multitasking is second nature to them. The last thing they use a phone for is to make calls, and any type of PC is passé at best. They want information at their fingertips now. These are our operators of the future. How will they help us to survive? And what will the proverbial "control room of the future," where they're going to be working, look like? What will be the effects of the end of the PC era? Will the operator of the future even be in the control room at all, or will the plant be the control room, as the operator walks around doing rounds?

That rescue can happen if we can convince the digital natives that process manufacturing is as cool as working for Google or Apple or Bain Capital. Listen to ways to improve the education process, so that more young people come into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) tracks in elementary schools and high schools.

Come to The Woodlands for this exciting new conference and put your mind to rest that the future is in safe hands—yours! Please visit www.atpm2012.org for all the details and to register.

In addition to a great conference, you get to participate in the award ceremony for the Process Automation Hall of Fame—a dinner that will honor Vern Heath of Emerson Process Management, Mark Nixon of Emerson Process Management, and Tom Phinney, retired from Honeywell, as they are inducted into the hall. Listen to these automation industry greats talk about their contributions and the issues they see in automation in the next few years. Celebrate the history of automation in process manufacturing as we learn how to create its future. 

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