July 2008

One top issue: Hiking global efficiency

EDITOR'S NOTE: At ABB Automation World 2008 in May, Enrique Santacana, president and chief executive of ABB Inc., region manager of ABB North America, and Roger Bailey, senior vice president for the Process Automation Business Area in North America and business area group vice president for the Pulp and Paper industries, sat down with InTech Editor Gregory Hale to discuss hot topics throughout the industry. This is the first of a two-part conversation with these two industry leaders.

InTech: Are companies using their existing control system technologies to the max?

Santacana: I would say by and large they are. I think part of the growth we have seen in our business is reflective of the need manufacturers have in continuing to improve the productivity in this global race we are all in.

InTech: What do you see as the biggest issue facing manufacturers today?

Santacana: There is a need to continuously increase productivity in this global economy. Energy is becoming a tremendous issue. Not only the cost of it, but the availability, so efficiency is at a premium. On the positive side, the U.S. currency is at low levels compared to some of the developed world major currencies, which gives us a tremendous opportunity for export. There are many manufacturing companies here in the U.S. taking advantage of that. The environment is certainly an issue. It is becoming much more a part of the American conscious.

InTech: Baby Boomers are on the verge of walking away from the industry, and that will affect the industry and ABB. Do you have a plan of attack addressing that issue?

Santacana: With all the growth we expect to realize in the next several years, the human resources issue is at the top of the list. We have for the past couple of years re-energized our recruiting processes and our relationships with universities.

There are also vocational schools. Community by community, our facilities need to establish their own relationships.

I think as a nation, we have a real issue because we have some of the strongest universities and colleges in the world, but one level down, we are not so strong.

InTech: Does it matter to ABB if engineers are coming from the U.S., India, or Europe? Is the engineer trained pretty much the same way across the board?

Santacana: At ABB yes, pretty much. The technical training they receive and the on-the-job training is pretty consistent around the globe. At ABB, we should be part of the community and be good neighbors, so if we can hire locally, that should be the first option, but if the resources are not available locally, we have access to other places.

InTech: Wireless is a big issue in the industry today. How long will it be before wireless is considered just another form of networking?

Santacana: I think it depends on the industry. The advantage of wireless technology in a working environment obviously is speed-you are more mobile. On the concern side, you have to worry more about security because encryption technology becomes extremely important. But that mobility, that flexibility you get in the workforce, is just a tremendous productivity enhancement.

Bailey: I think the point on security is the whole thing. If security is there, the technology will be accepted. We built a new building five years ago, and I can remember IBM was a supplier and they didn't want to go wireless in the building yet because they didn't have all the standards, and now here it is two years later, if we didn't insist on going wireless we would have had an archaic building. It is pretty interesting how fast it happens once you resolve the security issue.

InTech: Has the security issue been resolved for wireless?

Santacana: No, I don't think there is a final solution. It is a race. You can never say you are secure; you have to be paranoid about these things.

InTech: Will wireless ever be used for critical control?

Santacana: It depends on the application. Where I come from, in the nuclear industry, I can't see it.

Bailey: Safety systems, certainly we are a long way out from my perspective.

InTech: You mainly see it as a monitoring, capturing data, that kind of thing?

Santacana: At this point, yes. There are some applications that you can use it for strict control, but it depends on what you are controlling. But for mission critical applications, I don't see it yet.