The International Society of Automation (ISA) recently completed its Automation Week in Houston, Texas. This was a huge change from past years because this year the focus was on the technical conference rather than the exhibition. The initial indications are that the event was a success, with more than 1,500 attendees registered for the event and another 120 or so exhibitors showing related products and services during the breaks. The whole idea behind this year’s event was to bring people together in conversations, because the most powerful network that exists is the "people network." People, by and large, are social, and even engineers seek venues to meet with other people with similar interests. Whether that location is a conference, a local engineering society meeting or a virtual community, the intent is to have a place where you can exchange ideas with others, while learning something yourself in the process.
The strength of the people network is reinforced by the number of web-based networking tools that people use to connect with others with similar interests – socially and professionally. Next to meeting in person at conferences and local society meetings, the most basic network you have is the contacts list in your e-mail application. In fact, that is how many list serves were started, including the original Fieldbus User Network (FUN list) that ran off a mailing list of approximately 600 names on my computer before it was converted to a true list serve that discussed all things Fieldbus at http://forums.fieldbus.org/.
The following are some list serves related to networking technology that might be of interest to readers of this column:
• HART: http://www.hartcomm2.org/vbulletin/. The HART Communications Foundation forum discusses this widely used protocol.
• Profibus: http://www.profibus.com/community/forum/discussion-board/. This board discusses all things that have to do with the three Profibus protocols.
• Modbus: http://modbus.control.com/. This granddaddy of protocols just happens to reside on the longest running list server of all, the Control mailing list, with topics on practically everything automation at http://www.control.com/.
ISA also has several forums: http://www.isa-online.org/cgi-bin/wa.exe?INDEX. Some are open to everyone, while others are for ISA members or specific groups, such as standards developing bodies. ISA also has list serves for each of its divisions at http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?Section=Technical_Information_and_Communities&Template=/Taggedpage/CommunityList.cfm. Participation in division list serves is restricted to the members of the division; yet another form of community where those with similar interests can meet.
All of the above forums give you a digest option where you can request to have either a daily or weekly digest sent to you with all postings of interest, rather than be inundated with e-mails every time someone posts.
Last but not least are the connections available through LinkedIn and other public networks. The following are just a few of the industrial networking related forums on LinkedIn that I belong to: Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, WINA (wireless), Industrial Wireless (discussion area for wireless between the field sensor and control system I/O such as HART, ISA-100 and WIA) and, of course, the Manufacturing AUTOMATION group that provides access to some of the publication’s columnists/contributors, as well as those individuals with similar interests.
The above is only a partial list of the ways in which you can expand your network and exchange knowledge with others. Note that the key word here is exchange. You will only get out of a network what you are willing to put into it. People can quickly tell if you are hoping to get something for nothing, or are trying to use the network for self promotion or because you are too lazy to do the work yourself and hope to get some free consulting from the mail list.
If you have other networks that you feel might be of interest to our readers, post them to the Manufacturing AUTOMATION group on LinkedIn, or send the link to Mary or myself and we will be sure to get the relevant information to our readers.
In summary, participating in the people network will not only reinforce and expand what you know, but also the number of people you know. This network will be very helpful for those times when you either need confirmation of the solution you think is right, or need some suggestions on where to start looking for an answer. From personal experience, I know that participating in such networks has not only helped me grow professionally, but also allowed me to make some wonderful friends all over the world. I encourage you to get involved in the networks that relate to your interests. I look forward to meeting you on a network soon.
Ian Verhappen, P.Eng. is an ISA Fellow, ISA Certified Automation Professional, and a recognized authority on Foundation Fieldbus and industrial communications technologies. Verhappen operates a global consultancy, Industrial Automation Networks Inc., specializing in field level industrial communications, process analytics and heavy oil / oil sands automation. Feedback is always welcome via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.