Create a free account to continue

I'm Not Eavesdropping - I'm Learning

Chem.Info editor Carrie Ellis sounds off about the value that can be unearthed at industry events like National Manufacturing Week and Schneider Electric's Initi@tive 2008

By Carrie Ellis

Having just set my bags down from a short stint at National Manufacturing Week, in lieu of attending Schneider Electric's Initi@tive 2008 event in August, amongst other industry events, I settle heavily into my office chair to begin all of the promised follow-up.

Where to begin? As exhausted as I am after rubbing elbows with product managers and interrogating end users, I still can't help but feel slightly elated despite the quicksand pit of e-mail with which I have yet to contend.

Being somewhat new to the marketplace, I must admit industry events are quite an enlightening experience. Those times when you feel like you're on the outside looking in, it's rather easy to glean how successful processing industry players differentiate themselves.

How you ask? By keeping your ears and mind open. With that fly-on-the-wall perspective within the last couple of months, I learned more about what it means to be in the processing industry than if I were to memorize a processing encyclopedia.

For instance, I couldn't go two booths without renewable energy cropping up-OK, OK, I know that's an obvious one. But how about hearing what a real plant engineer or operations manager did to solve a specific problem that you just so happen to encounter, whether it be tomorrow or 10 years down the road? I'd say that's pretty valuable information, and even if the story doesn't always apply directly, you can still separate the wheat from the chaff.

I think I speak for most of you busy processing professionals when I say it's too easy to get caught up in your own plant and responsibilities (or in my case, overloaded e-mail inbox) that you forget about how to simplify your life. In need of something, but you don't know what? Just ask someone who may know, right? What better person to ask than someone who's already dealt with the predicament, so you can learn from his or her successes, or even mistakes?

If there is one overarching generalization I can pull across any industry, it is this-you're never alone. Whether you're confronted with an elusive material-handling bottleneck, plagued by component failure, bedeviled with unscheduled maintenance or what have you, someone else has already been through a similar situation.
It's the industry events that keep us connected to our professional peers-who are, quite literally, the best resource when seeking a solution or in a jam of some sort.

In hindsight (meaning after I've rubbed the feeling back into my feet), it was refreshing to see so many manufacturing professionals mixing it up with each other. What with the precarious economic outlook and spike in global competition, it seems more natural than ever to join forces close to home to overcome the roadblocks to whatever is hindering your process or continuous improvement goals.

Although the piles on your desk (or the concerns weighing on your mind) may not take care of themselves, it's nice to know you have someone to confide in, request feedback from or collaborate with when you walk away from an industry event-although the ROI is untraceable, the time you may have saved yourself would be well worth it in most cases.

Someone once asked me how I come up with article topics. I flatly told him that I eavesdrop on my readers. (C'mon, it's not always intentional.) What's nice, however, about industry events is that not only do I get to hear about how this processor figured out a way to improve efficiency by reusing waste, but I also get to hear about that plant engineer or manager who's looking for specific component or application solutions.

And that's when I know I have a good story-when the question was first asked, and I'm simply there to fill in the blanks … Now I hunker back down to returning e-mails, but I look forward to running across the news and notes that bring me even more insight, which is good. I'll be here awhile.

What's your take? Let me know - send me an e-mail via [email protected].