Anyone with an interest in the application of IT-based automation to the industrial enterprise should consider stopping next week in Orlando for the 19th annual ARC Industry Forum.

The current generation of engineers and managers has been fearless in the adoption of the latest emergent computing technologies. Plant IT departments see the clear benefits in the cloud, mobile wireless and virtualization, leading to rapid proliferation of applications and instances.

But this is only the culmination of a chain of causation that’s been going on for 30 years now, changing industry as much as it changed communications media.

Industry-wise, first came the PLC and DCS as basic platforms for controlling process automation, replacing mechanical relays and much else. At the same time, computer-aided design (CAD) and material resources planning (MRP) found use in even mid-size plants.

Ideas about how computers could best serve how industry plans and schedules production changed as microprocessors became more powerful. Generic software became increasingly industry-specific. Integrated supply chains shifted the action to narrower time frames and complex stocking strategies.

Today, other questions are being answered. If sports analytics can tell NBA basketball pros that the best way to win a game is to focus on 3-point shots, don’t take long 2-pointers and get the rest of your points from lay-ups and free throws, then what more can the discipline tell us about process control?

Again, application developers/analysts have become important people even for the mid-size enterprise. It is this editor’s impression that the gap has closed somewhat between the degree of automation and sophistication the largest corporations can bring to bear and the resources of the mid-market.

Green screens persisted in plants for a long time after the graphical user interface came in, but the change-overs seem to go quicker now.  

Dow, Homeland Security, General Electric and Exxon Mobil will all be at ARC Forum next week. It’s not a large event, but the sessions are good. Andy Chatha, president of ARC Advisory Group, has over the years encouraged industry publication editors to attend and that has been one more reason for automation suppliers to be there.

We’re looking forward to it. And if it’s too late to attend this year, visit the ARC website and consider attending the 20th anniversary. Other industry analyst groups focused on the process industries have in the meanwhile come and gone.