01 June 2004
New executive director sees change in Society, the industry, the profession.
Automation is working. And, if you listen to Robert Renner, ISA – The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society's new executive director, engineers will have a great future if they stay plugged into both key trends in the industry and ISA.
"Systems and automation is what we do," Renner said. "Our members design and implement the world's automation systems. And the future in that world looks bright."
Renner's optimism appears well grounded. The business and application of automation around the world is trending positive according to nearly all economic indicators. One report from Intechno Consulting (Basel, Switzerland) said while 2004 will be flat, expect a significant increase in the global market for process automation in 2005, and annual growth of 5.1% average through 2010.
With automation increasingly becoming more global, Renner believes one of ISA's principal activities, standards development, "will see significant growth in the next decade." Renner said consumers continue to demand higher quality products. And manufacturers must meet those demands whether a product is made in the U.S., Europe, or Asia. "As the global economy solidifies and automation intensifies," he said, "it will be increasingly important to develop and distribute globally accepted automation standards."
Focus on youth
Part of Renner's challenge is to position ISA more positively among younger professionals. "We want younger engineers to join the society so they can share their knowledge," he said, "you are only as young as your youngest leader."
Renner remembers how difficult it was as an engineer coming out of school. He recognizes the plight of today's young engineers. He understands, he said, the changing paradigm of the engineer's job, in addition to having to balance work schedules. Younger ISA members are usually from households with two job holders, who are managing kids and two careers and trying to stay ahead of the changes in the profession.
"Younger people want to feel their time is valued," Renner said. "They don't want to spend time in an endless meeting discussing for hours a problem that will take years to solve. They don't want a long-term engagement."
Armed with an M.S. in sanitary engineering and a B.S. in civil engineering from South Dakota State University, Renner comes to ISA from the American Water Works Association (AWWA) where he was deputy executive director. Prior to joining the AWWA staff, Renner spent more than twenty years serving in a variety of engineering and management positions, helping utilities optimize treatment plant performance. He is a registered professional engineer in Colorado and Minnesota.
The new engineer
Renner said while the fundamentals of engineering have stayed the same, the actual job description has altered—probably forever. "I think things continue to change; it's a natural evolution. We are on a journey to see how manufacturing changes. The profession has broadened."
"Engineers have been called on to do much more," he said. "They must be more savvy in the ways of communications. They need to have a broader background."
What makes the job even more difficult and challenging at the same time, Renner said, is "there are more stakeholders involved in decision making today, and a requirement is engineers need greater communication and political skills."
National Academies' National Academy of Engineering echoes Renner, as they issued a report saying engineers of the future must be ready to help consider and resolve challenges that will arise from new global competition, requiring thoughtful and collaborative action if engineering in the U.S. is to retain its vibrancy and strength.
Engineers must be able to acquire new knowledge quickly, be adaptable and able to engage emerging problems, and also be capable of informing public policy, the report said.
Because of global competition and more demanding engineering requirements and regulations, Renner recognized an expanded role for ISA in certification programs—from technicians through automation professionals. We need to "train and educate members so they are more competitive in the world economy," he said.
Getting information these days is easy—just "google" it. But as Renner said, it is difficult to judge if that information is reliable. That is where an association like ISA continues to help the industry, he said. Even after the tumultuous past three years or so with business models changing to better meet industry's needs, societies have a very valid place in the economy, Renner said.
All organizations, society or corporate, need to develop new ways to do business. With the rapid flow of information these days, people need to make decisions quicker. He said ISA has taken some moves in this direction with more to come. "It will be an ongoing process for the Society to develop products and services to make its members more competitive and productive."
Renner sees ISA working more closely with corporations. In the past, ISA has traditionally been member based and has relied solely on membership for its leadership and guidance. Now, the society is moving to involve corporations in addition to its traditional membership. Companies in the industry have knowledge that melds well with ISA's. Renner said, "This will ensure that the society is in tune with the profession not only today but for the future."
Poised for growth
The continuous advancements in semiconductor and electronic products will remain an impetus behind automation product revenue growth, which promises to ease, somewhat, Robert Renner's assumption of the executive director job at the Society. The Intechno Consulting ( Basel, Switzerland) report said the world market for process automation will grow from $61.3 billion in 2000 to $94.2 billion in 2010. Process automation markets refer to the overall automation and instrumentation demand of the process industries that are relevant for the plant operators in the process industries. The report—the World Report—analyzes and forecasts all of the 11 process industries. Among its findings are some key process industries dominate the present and future markets with $30.3 billion in 2000 and $48 billion in 2010. The average annual growth is 4.7%. The industries include the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, petroindustries such as refineries and petrochemicals, and the food and beverage industry
The future of automation products serving the discrete industries looks just as bright, at least through 2007, according to the Dedham, Mass.–based industry research firm ARC Advisory Group. The global automation business in the discrete industries will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 6.1% over the next five years.
ARC forecasts the worldwide market in this automation sector will be more than $30 billion in 2007. The report highlights several pockets of reliable growth in the discrete automation business including building automation, electronics, semiconductor, automotive, and plastic machinery.