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The physics of marketing: It is all about surfaces when it comes to technology

December 14, 2009
By Dick Morley


Dick MorleyThis fall I attended the fourth annual ISA Marketing and Sales Summit — a strong change for me. Over the years, my attention has been diverted from geek-hood to marketing. Why? Because the connection and communication between the source and use of raw tech is communicated by the folks in the sales and marketing domains.

The boutique conference was held in Boston in September. Shari Worthington of Telesian Technologies and her friends put it together for ISA. She emailed me and asked for a keynote talk and a journey to the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center. I agreed, though hesitantly. Engineers are my normal audience, not the inhabitants of the marketing “dark side.” Little did I know I was the dark side. The technology is irrelevant but necessary. I feel a story welling up here that will indicate my position.

I was asked several years ago, “What is in an iPod?” I had no idea. I stumbled into the swamp of ignorance, feigning knowledge and covering my lack thereof with the mysterious language of technology. I finally gave up and admitted that I was snowed. The marketer said, “Music, you idiot.” A light dawned on me: ’tis the use that conquers all. The technology is a tool to the customer’s landscape. It took me several decades but I finally became an acolyte of marketing.

My first talk was titled “Nanotech, Black Holes and Chocolate.” We discussed the relevance of these disparate subjects to explain the physicist’s view of sales and marketing functions. The important aspect of a black hole is the surface. We cannot ever penetrate the interior. As such, the interior of the black hole is irrelevant.
Necessary, but irrelevant. It is no different for the realms of nano and chocolate. With chocolate, for example, the smaller the molecules, the more surface area there is in each square inch, and therefore, it tastes better. All three of the title objects depend upon their surface characteristics, not their interiors.

So it is with control systems, SCADA, product design and software. What counts is the application, not the means used in construction — just like a house, family or marriage. Marketing gives direction to the engineer so that the engineer’s work is fruitful.

Back to the summit: The most exciting aspect for me was the fusion lab tour. MIT could only accommodate twenty visitors. The tour started with my talk on impact and the state of fusion power. Most of the media focused on the conservation of energy. This is not a solution but a palliative. You cannot train a horse to eat no food. We need to think about real future sources of energy — sources that don’t spoil the environment and are essentially limitless. Fusion power can be the solution.

Anyway, we went to the MIT lab and were given another talk by a real physicist. We had the whole MIT experience: wonderful technology with informal masters. The dress code was nonexistent, with the physical aspects reminding me of my barn. I am always reminded of the Joker in the first Batman movie when he said, “Where does he get those wonderful tools?” There were immense high-resolution screens, lots of PLCs, and everything was serviced by PCs. It was better than a science-fiction movie. My guests put on hard hats and walked into the reactor arena. They saw the guts of the seven-country research project, appreciated real solar power, understood the temperatures under control were higher than the core of our sun, met the enthusiastic staff and had a big smile coming out of the visit. These communicators of technology were given a view of the next several decades in energy. No sizzle, all beef. They saw the real thing.

This was my fourth visit and lecture about fusion power, and I am still impressed. It takes my breath away. Deb, my long-suffering secretary, went with me on a previous tour and loved it.

These are some of my own FAQs:
• Why doesn’t everybody know about this?
• Will a “bucket of water” really power all of Europe for thousands of years?
• Do modern aircraft carriers really only refuel every 20 years (with fission power)?
• Are the French really building a 500-MW experimental power unit? (ITER)
• Does size really matter?

What did I learn? Boutique special conferences are the wave of the future. Teaming marketing and sales with engineers is wonderful and necessary. They, too, love the future, the technology and the opportunity awaiting our children. They, as well as us, see the sun, not the doom and gloom of our future.

Dick Morley is the inventor of the PLC, an author, speaker, automation industry maverick and a self-proclaimed ubergeek. E-mail him at