Thursday, 21 August 2008

Show us your graphics

The next WBF meeting will be in Barcelona. That is a great place worth visiting even without the Meeting of Minds the forum promises. I have been to many WBF – and before that EBF meetings, and have always enjoyed them, sometimes too much. Perhaps I really should not have gone sampling all the strongest Belgian Trappist beers with the Irish and the Danes in Brussels. Making beer is of course something that S88 can describe perfectly, whether it is the largely manual processes used by small scale brewers or the highly automated ones used by the biggest. And how you make beer is interesting, but we don’t get paid for being interested. More to the point especially for a control engineer trying to justify a ‘WBF Jolly’ is to be able to learn how others automate making beer – or chemicals – or ice cream, or any manufactured product.
For control engineers the problems that are the same whatever you make are interesting - beer makers can learn from chemical makers how each solves the same problems.
Now, S88 did a good initial job of separating the product (the recipes) from the control of equipment . And it covers both.
So, looking at the agenda for the next WBF, where is the equipment control? (Apart from Part 5! )
I can’t see anyone on the agenda talking about how they control their plants. How do they handle their equipment - from simple things like agitators, to CIP and multi-purpose flexible plants. What standard objects do they use. How do their operators interact with the processes, their levels of manual control, and so on. How they deploy the great products that are available from the majors?

The WBF Charter says
WBF - The Forum for Automation and Manufacturing Professionals, is an association of end-users, vendors, consultants and academics with a strict, non-commercial agenda.
But is it really non-commercial?
I remember fondly the days of the European Batch Forum, it’s agenda was 50% commercial and 50% open. That is half of the presentation time was commercial suppliers demonstrating their wares, the other half was generally independent of the suppliers. The richer suppliers paid for (sponsored) most of it.
I found that this worked very well. There were for example many supplier presentations that were far more illuminating than most of non commercial ones. DCS and PLC suppliers and Systems Integrators could demonstrate how they had solved control problems - believe me you can learn far more from watching live demonstrations that you can from PowerPoint. But you are not allowed to do that at the WBF. It makes it much more boring. And yet even as it is the WBF is still used by most presenters as a marketing vessel and is actually highly commercial in it’s dealings – it now uses sponsorship in different ways. Fair enough, a different model. But where is the Control?

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