ISA - Change the name to represent the industry |

ISA - Change the name to represent the industry

September 232008
ISA - Change the name to represent the industry
September 23, 2008 editorial by Rick Zabel

About this time last year I heard about ISA's proposed name change to "International Society of Automation." I remember thinking to myself, "What a great step for the organization!" A new name would give ISA a new identity and help to re-position itself as the (more appropriate) "global automation" entity. Then, while at ISA Expo 2007, I heard the name change was voted down. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked, disappointed and disillusioned. As an outsider (someone not really familiar with the inner workings of ISA), I couldn't understand what happened. Later, it came to my attention that the new name was basically voted down (and I'm paraphrasing) because many long-time members and society delegates couldn't let go of the "Instrumentation" roots.

Another vote on the name change is set to take place during ISA Expo, Ocotber 14-16, 2008. I understand change is very difficult but, in some cases it is also very necessary. This name change is one of those cases. ISA was initially started in 1945 as the Instrument Society of America. According to ISA's History web page, "Industrial instruments, which became widely used during World War II, continued to play an ever-greater role in the expansion of technology after the war. Individuals like Rimbach and others involved in industry saw a need for the sharing of information about instruments on a national basis, as well as for standards and uniformity. The Instrument Society of America addressed that need."

That was 63 years ago. At that time, there were no automated control systems or automation systems - just instruments and people. Back then, the name Instrument Society of America made sense. According to Wikipedia, early minicomputers were used to control industrial processes in the 1960s. The first PLC was documented in 1968. The first DCSs were introduced by Honeywell and Yokogawa in 1975. Today, instruments are just one (necessary) piece of an overall automation system. It all started with instruments, but then manufacturing demanded more. It demanded a controller, software, sensors, and networks. It demanded an integrated automation system. As manufacturing has evolved, so should ISA. That doesn't mean we should forget about ISA's history - after all it was instrumental in the manufacturing landscape (pardon the pun).

A few years ago, ISA changed its name to "The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society" in an attempt to broaden its scope beyond instrumentation and rid itself of the U.S.-centric identity. At that time, ISA began a significant transformation. Since then, the society has made great progress in becoming the voice of the automation profession and setting the standard in automation. ISA has successfully engaged government and universities to help raise awareness of the automation profession. But it still has a long way to go.

What about Globalization? Manufacturers are producing their products all over the world to meet the demands in global economies. If ISA truly wants to be an international society, its name should reflect it. The majority of the automation population is no longer based in the United States - the majority is now outside of the U.S., in Asia, Europe, South America, and elsewhere. With names, perception is often reality. If you call yourself an international organization, it's easier to become an international organization.

The automation industry is in the midst of a global skills shortage and it's only going to get worse. At the age of 41, I'm a youngster in the automation industry. A large percentage of automation professionals are nearing retirement and there are not enough young people entering the field to backfill those open positions. It's crucial that we attract new blood to the industry - quickly. ISA will be instrumental in attracting those young engineers, but they can't do it alone and they can't do it with a 60+ year old philosophy.

Manufacturing has changed drastically in the last 60 years - from the use of instruments to complex, integrated automation systems. If ISA is truly the global society of automation professionals, then its name should reflect its cause. I implore the "powers that be" to stop fighting change and adopt a new vision. So far, I have not read any compelling arguments against this name change. I've read arguments, but nothing gripping enough to resist the change. We exist in a new century, a new economy and a new world. For ISA to thrive or even survive, it's time for a new name!

If you are an automation professional who cares about your profession, I encourage you to contact your Local Sections and express your support for a new global, automation-focused ISA, which begins with this name change. Section presidents and delegates are listed on at the Local Sections page of the ISA web site.

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