User group meetings
Just as car enthusiasts prefer to talk with and learn from owners of similar vehicles, automation and instrumentation engineers tend to gravitate toward others with the same hardware and software. While attendance at general manufacturing trade shows is flat to down, participation in vendor- or technology-specific users groups seems to be on the rise.
Just as car enthusiasts prefer to talk with and learn from owners of similar vehicles, automation and instrumentation engineers tend to gravitate toward others with the same hardware and software. While attendance at general manufacturing trade shows is flat to down, participation in vendor- or technology-specific users groups seems to be on the rise. It’s hard to find the time for a day or three out of the plant and into exhibit halls or seminar rooms, but user group meetings can provide the best return for the time spent, if you spend your time wisely.
Lee Swindler, systems control manager for Lyondell, is also chairman of the Honeywell Process Solutions Service Advisory Council, and a former Honeywell Users Group Americas steering committee member. He offers the following advice for making the most of user group meetings:
• Arrive early , the day before, to check in, get familiar with the conference/resort layout, pick up your registration packet, and review the agenda. This also gives you a chance to relax before the big week ahead.
• Plan ahead . Most conferences have multiple sessions in parallel and chances are you will not be able to attend everything. Prioritize the most important sessions and topics then fill in the remaining time as needed.
• Pace yourself . Recognize that by the third or fourth day you will start to lose energy, so don’t kill yourself trying to make every item on the agenda. Late nights in the bar can also have a detrimental effect on your energy level.
• Be social . Some of the most rewarding experiences from a user conference come from your interaction and networking with other users. Catch up with old friends and make new ones. Attend the social events. Have fun!
• Pay attention . The conference organizing committee and volunteer speakers put a tremendous amount of effort into providing useful information. Your company has paid good money for you to attend. It is only right that you put forth the effort to capture a return on that investment. Learn something new and put it to use when you get back to work.
The ways to learn something new are rich and varied. Product sessions, simulations and demonstrations allow you to work hands-on and in-depth with specific products. Presentations from and discussions with product managers, application engineers, and technology partners puts you in touch with years of collective wisdom. Conversations over lunch can provide a range of fresh ideas regarding implementation, application, expansion, and support of work practices. Many groups have agreements that also let you earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which are a permanent, nationally recognized record of professional improvement.
User group meetings can be big annual events, small monthly gatherings by region, or some combination. National Instruments, for example, lists 70 active LabView user groups in the U.S. and Canada, including its annual NIWeek gathering in the summer. Some groups are public and others are company-specific.
Kathryn McGinney manages NI user group activity in the Northeast and Southeast, and offers best practices for well-run meetings:
• A detailed, timely agenda . Completed early and promoted well, a detailed agenda and session abstracts can help you get to an event, because it shows what you can learn and bring back. Onsite, the agenda is a planning tool.
• Field sales involvement . Access to sales engineers, product managers and other resources with deep technical knowledge is a key benefit of user group meetings.
• Support for user/attendee involvement. “We empower members to create and present on NI solutions to their application. This gives each company some face time,” says McGinney.
• Friendly atmosphere . A welcoming atmosphere can include lunch and/or other refreshments, private space with ample room for sessions, easy access to local restaurants, and other amenities.
Learn more about Honeywell and NI efforts hpsweb.honeywell.com/Cultures/en-US/NewsEvents/UsersGroupSymposia/default.htm and www.ni.com .
For advice on creating a successful gathering of users, attend a group and ask your host or hostess. You can also contact a member of one of the most active National Instruments LabView user groups: Leigh Christian of Mindready Systems (formally Radical Systems), Huntsville, AL, firstname.lastname@example.org , 256-883-9791 Ext. 10.
Renee Robbins is editorial director. Contact her at email@example.com .
Upcoming user group meetings
The following is a tiny sample of the many user groups meeting in North America in 2007. Visit the Web sites of your favorite vendors, or check the calendar listings at the bottom of the home page at
ABB Automation World, Orlando, FL, Mar. 20-21
Fieldbus Foundation General Assembly, Houston, TX, Feb. 22-23
Honeywell Users Group Americas, Phoenix, AZ, Jun. 10-14
NIweek, Austin, TX, Aug. 7-9
Rockwell Automation Automation Fair, Chicago, Nov. 14-15