WBF breaks with ISA in bid to regain MES initiative

Feb. 13, 2009
The decision to separate from ISA is of particular importance at a time when MES and enterprise integration issues dominate the automation industry agenda.

It’s not quite three years since members of WBF, the former World Batch Forum, approved the decision to become an affiliate of the ISA. As a result WBF and OMAC (now the Organization for Machine Automation and Control but originally the Open Architecture Controller User Group) became founder members of the Automation Alliance and subsequently charter members of the Automation Federation.

That was at a time when ISA was coming in for heavy criticism and seeking a new role, part of which, it was anticipated, could be as an umbrella organization embracing and providing support for a range of smaller associations and societies engaged in manufacturing and processing related activities. In the event, however, that never really happened, and the then-WBF chairman Maurice Wilkins’ expectation that “this affiliation with ISA will allow WBF to provide additional services to WBF members and the entire industrial community” was never fulfilled. Instead, as Gary Mintchell said in his blog posting on the subject, “the Federation has changed direction toward becoming a lobbying organization for the automation industry.”

As a result, WBF has, in effect, decided that the original decision to tie itself more closely to ISA was a mistake and that its future lies in reasserting its independence. “WBF will be remaining as part of the Automation Federation,” explained incoming WBF chair Bill Stewart, “but WBF and ISA have arrived at a mutual decision to separate the operations of WBF from ISA.”

Functions and services hitherto provided on behalf of WBF by ISA will, it seems, now be provided by KCA, Inc which has been retained as WBF’s association management company, under the direction of a newly-appointed technical director, George Devine, who will report to the board of directors. The decision to separate from ISA is of particular importance at a time when MES and enterprise integration issues dominate the automation industry agenda. WBF has previously played a key role in that debate, developing the B2MML Batch to Manufacturing Mark-up Language and promoting the ISA88 batch manufacturing and ISA95 enterprise integration standards.
There may have been a suspicion among the WBF membership that too close an association with ISA had allowed the MES and enterprise integration initiative to pass to rival organizations including, notably, MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) International. “Other organizations tell you why, and what, for manufacturing execution and manufacturing operations management,” claimed WBF founder Lynn Craig, “but we tell you how. And we’re the only organization that can tell you how ― and have for over 15 years.”

The decision coincides with the news that WBF is postponing its annual North American conference, originally scheduled to take place at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina from May 4 to 6 “to a date later in the year, to be announced subsequently.” Explaining the decision, Maurice Wilkins, now the outgoing chair of WBF, said, “We believe that we need to respond to the global economic situation in an appropriate way. We’ve decided that a conference held as early in 2009 as we had originally scheduled it would not serve the membership and sponsors of WBF,” which, one suspects, is as elegant a way of responding to a lack of bookings and a surge of cancellations as one is likely to hear.