You can go home again

I’m going to take issue with Thomas Wolfe and the title of his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again,” because this column is evidence that you can, in fact, go home again. For those of you who may not remember, I was the editorial director of Control Engineering from 2003 to 2005. While much has remained the same since I was last at the editorial helm of Control Engineering, ...
By David Greenfield, editorial director May 1, 2008

I’m going to take issue with Thomas Wolfe and the title of his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again,” because this column is evidence that you can, in fact, go home again. For those of you who may not remember, I was the editorial director of Control Engineering from 2003 to 2005.

While much has remained the same since I was last at the editorial helm of Control Engineering , many things have changed. The most significant changes that I have noticed include: increasing interest in wireless industrial communications, a significant uptake in industrial Ethernet, and a clearly evident adaptation in engineers’ outlook regarding the role of manufacturing and engineering in the United States.

When I first heard wireless industrial communications discussed, the overarching opinion among engineers was that wireless was fine for front-office applications, but it could never be trusted in mission-critical environments. Though use of wireless in production situations has certainly not become ubiquitous, it is clear that wireless has gained a seat at the table during serious discussions of new industrial communication infrastructures. I understand that, for many, the hard wire still rules, but the advances made in wireless technology and the industry’s opinions of it have certainly progressed substantially in the last few years.

Speaking of the hard wire, I recall that some of the most heated battles were reserved for discussion of Ethernet’s deterministic capability. With the advances made around switched Ethernet with full duplex communication for controlled network traffic, the arguments no longer seem to focus on Ethernet’s deterministic capability, but rather its potential for use as a real-time control network. That one seems to have a good half-life left in it.

As for the outlook on manufacturing and engineering in the U.S., I recommend taking a look at “Global Manufacturing Reality Check,” this month’s article based on results of our 2008 salary survey. Adaptation to the realities of the worldwide manufacturing market are clearly evident in readers’ responses to the survey, though more than a few pockets of defiance still offer a variety of opinions.

Those divergent opinions are what I missed most during my time away from Control Engineering and what I look forward to most in my return. For all the talk about manufacturing being a dying industry in the U.S., nothing proves that is farther from the truth than the passion held for it held by so many. I look forward to once again being a part of that conversation.

david.greenfield@reedbusiness.com