On September 28 more than 1,600 of Emerson Process Management’s customers, local business partners and company people gathered in Orlando for the company’s annual five-day Global Users Exchange. Attendance was down quite a bit from the previous year’s 2,500 plus, but considering the state of the economy it was still a decent turnout. As in past years the event featured an extensive papers program and a display of products from Emerson and its partners. In addition Emerson generally uses the Exchange as an opportunity to make important announcements, and this year was no exception.
The General Session that began the event featured a welcome by event chairman Christopher Lebl, Associate Director, Facilities Operations Services at Genentech. He was followed Steve Sonnenberg (pictured), Executive Vice President, Emerson, and Business Leader, Emerson Process Management, who gave a rundown on company events and directions — including the opening of a 100,000 sq. ft. flow lab in Marshalltown, IA and a brief description of several new product directions. He was followed by Pat Williams, Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic and author of 38 books, who gave a rousing talk on what he considers the 13 characteristics of winners.
At a press event on the same day Sonnenberg gave a much more detailed address on future directions for the company entitled “Conquering Complexity,” which began with a discussion of the state of the process industry. The industry, said Sonnenberg, is faced with a demographic challenge: the most experienced and skilled workers are reaching retirement age at an alarming rate, and as they retire they take their knowledge and skills with them. At the same time plants are increasing in size, and process automation technology is accelerating. What can be done?
Emerson’s response, which it began working on five years ago, said Sonnenberg, was to partner with Carnegie Mellon University to establish a Human Centered Design (HCD) Institute. “HCD seeks to fully understand the roles, task objectives and work flow in the user’s environment,” according to Emerson. “By understanding a prioritization of what a user seeks to accomplish in their tasks, and the environment in which they perform those tasks, designers can develop products which are more ‘usable,’ or intuitive to use, providing a higher degree of worker productivity.”
The application of HCD principles begins by studying not how a user uses a product, but how that person does his or her work. The aim is not to change work processes but to eliminate them, to remove the complexity of using technology and to embed specialized knowledge. This is perhaps best illustrated by the comment of a customer in the chemical industry: “I don’t want to build the car, I want to drive it.”
Sonnenberg was followed by Pete Zornio, chief strategic officer of Emerson Process Management, who spoke on Emerson’s implementation of the new philosophy. These include important changes to its flagship DeltaV product’s I/O processing, operator displays, asset management, batch capability and system security. Significant on the hardware side are “I/O on Demand” and electronic marshalling, which give flexibility to the assignment of I/O and can greatly reduce the time and expense involved in installation, as well as human centered interfaces and new device dashboards.
Big push on wireless
Perhaps the area of most interest to Valve readers is Emerson’s continuing push into wireless connectivity for field devices, including valves. The company has been making and selling a low-power wireless mesh system for some years now, but the intensity has ratcheted up to a full-court press this year, beginning with series of enhancements to its Smart Wireless network. New products of special interest to valve people included a wireless adaptor for existing HART devices called the THUM and a wireless position monitor for valves, both of which have available information that previously was available only with a HART reader or by running expensive wiring.
While keynote addresses and product announcements were part of the event, the most time — and the real reason for many who attending the event in the first place — was devoted to technical sessions, which included more than 325 workshops and short courses on a wide range of subjects, a set of management sessions for mid- to upper-level managers in the process industries, industry and engineering forums, product roadmap sessions, and certified training courses. There were 24 sessions in the Valve Applications track alone, many of them relating users’ experiences.
At the end of each day the Technology Exhibits opened up, with subject matter experts and live, hands-on demonstrations of PlantWeb architecture and all of Emerson technologies and complementary vendor solutions. All this took place in the center part of the football field-sized display area, while around the walls were the display booths of 44 companies (who also had helped sponsor the event) showing their products.
One innovation at this year’s event was Twitter: the Exchange set up a way for attendees to set up Twitter accounts, so they could pass those tiny (140-character) messages back and forth about the event and what they were thinking. Maybe it’s just me, but what is wrong with having an unexpressed thought?
Next year’s Emerson Exchange is slated to take place Sept. 27 – Oct. 1 in San Antonio, TX.