The Measurement, Control & Automation Association (MCAA) hosted its annual Industry Forum April 17-19 at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.

The theme of this year’s event was “Visions of the Future”. More than 240 attendees representing some 75% of MCAA’s member companies were on hand for the Forum.

Peter Martin, Planning Committee Chairman and Vice President of Business Value Consulting for Schneider Electric | Invensys, kicked off the events by challenging the audience of industry leaders to collaborate and innovate as the world becomes even more interconnected.

Don Bartusiak, Chief Engineer for Process Control with ExxonMobil’s Research and Engineering Division, took to the stage first to discuss the challenges of designing and building standards based, open, secure, and interoperable automation platforms. He detailed how ExxonMobil is working with aerospace and defense leader Lockheed Martin to develop automation architecture that will in turn create new and healthier business ecosystems. He also stressed the need for a new type of business model that takes into account factors such as security, big data, and remote connectivity.

Applying new ideas to create smart, connected power plants was the focus of the presentation by Duke Energy’s Technical Programs Manager, Michael Reid. He acknowledged that while there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the nation’s aging power grid, there have also been waves of innovation. He cited the example of Duke Energy’s Monitoring and Diagnostics center where engineers and technicians can monitor power plant performance from a centralized location. “Big data” and analytics are being utilized to create pattern recognition so that potential problems can be predicted and repaired ahead of time.

Educating and attracting the next generation of process control professionals was the focus of presentations by MAVERICK Technologies CEO Paul Galeski and Howard Drake, the Director of Applied Technology Grants for Polk State College. Paul Galeski stressed the need to build a succession plan as the baby boom generation continues to leave the workforce. He detailed how employers should send younger workers out to gain real world experience and recognize that the workforce of the future will not commute to the office everyday.

Howard Drake discussed the unique opportunity America’s technical college have in developing curricula to create a career pathway for students interested in process controls. He challenged manufacturers to define the skill sets they want in employees so that educators can develop programs and concentrations to best meet their needs.

Business consultant and former MCAA Board Chairman Ed Curry of Curry & Hurd, LLC described the challenges facing businesses as they go from the start-up stage to growing companies. He stressed the need for balance between big picture generalists and subject matter experts. He also examined how capital funding from private equity firms can be advantageous, but may also put executives at odds with the values upon which the business was initially founded.

Cybersecurity expert Dan Schaffer delved into the shadowy world of computer hackers as he examined the risks facing the industrial world as ever more technology connects remotely. While many industrial controls systems were not designed with security in mind, he encouraged audience members to follow some common sense rules in making strong passwords and controlling access to sensitive plant areas. He also encouraged attendees to take advantage of free, cybersecurity resources available through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The challenges and opportunities for the global process industry were examined by Paul Rasmusson of Global Automation Research. In looking out as far as 2035, the audience considered how matters of population growth, energy use, managing water resources, environmental regulation, transportation infrastructure, and renewable energy issues would affect the automation industry.

Looking ahead was also the focus for Brian Gardner, President of SalesProcess360, as he detailed what would be required of the sales force of the future. Participants were encouraged to share and leverage their knowledge through increased use of customer relationship management (CRM). Sales managers were encouraged to avoid getting stuck in a “same old, same old” mentality and concentrate on the better use of data and business intelligence.

Day two began with Michael Workman, Ph.D. sharing his ideas for generating increased work and profit opportunities. He challenged listeners to do something old in a new way and adopt the attitude that effective strategies are more about the team than they are about the plan. His philosophy of “everything’s funny when you’re making money” resonated with the capacity crowd.

Next to take the stage was a panel discussion moderated by Committee Chairman Peter Martin. Don Clark of Schneider Electric | Invensys, Maurice Wilkins of Yokogawa Corporation, and Peter Zornio of Emerson Process Management fielded questions from both the moderator and the audience as they detailed their visions of the future. The panel wrestled with some of the most crucial issues facing automation companies including the replacement of large numbers of experienced workers, tension between business management and operations management, the expanding markets of Asia and Africa, and the idea of the Internet of Things connecting all technologies.

The final presentation of Industry Forum 2016 was that of Alex Chausovsky, Senior Analyst with ITR Economics. A very attentive audience packed the ballroom for his discussion of guidance in uncertain economic times. While acknowledging an incredible amount of volatility in the world’s energy markets, he stated there is good reason to be optimistic about the overall health of the US economy. The macroeconomy is expected to double its pace of growth in 2017 with industrial production also expected to increase. There was also good news for expanding markets as the valuation of the dollar favors manufacturers exports to Europe.

MCAA’s 2017 Industry Forum will be held April 23-25 at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta. Looking forward to seeing you there!