Problem Solving Through Social Networks in Automation and Manufacturing

This week we’re excited to have Jim Cahill from Emerson sharing his thoughts on Problem Solving Through Social Networks.

It was great meeting Ben Widdowson and participating with him on a Social Media panel at the ARC Industry Forum earlier this year. Here are a few thoughts from my introductory presentation during the ARC panel session.

Our business serves process manufacturers (think stuff flowing through pipes–refining, petrochemicals ,oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, etc.) with automation equipment. This includes measurement instrumentation, valves, control systems and software to engineer, commission, operate, and maintain the production process. The job of automation engineers is extremely difficult since they must have working knowledge of chemical/mechanical/electrical engineering, IT, cybersecurity, process safety, and a whole lot more.

This level of difficulty is increasing as technology advances and is becoming more complex. And in Western economies, experienced personnel are reaching retirement age. This trend compounds the challenge for those ramping up the learning curve. Communications technologies are also rapidly evolving as smartphones and tablets provide ways to connect people together.

I believe the results of these trends are that automation professionals are looking for ways to connect more broadly with other automation professionals–beyond the confines of their company. They are doing this to accelerate their learning curve, find answers faster, and share their expertise with others.

Social networks whether private online communities or popular social sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube are the places these connections are occurring. In special interest groups in these venues, engineers can connect together to ask questions, provide answers, and learn from others who earlier solved similar problems. These communities are usually discovered through Google searches.

The search word and phrases use are usually in the language of the problems at hand. Threads in online communities are usually quite rich in this problem-solving language and naturally rise to the top of the search engine results.

Beyond just getting an answer, the engineer can connect with others in the community and grow a circle of others with similar expertise.

The good thing about these social networks is that it is in the interest of the automation suppliers and automation end users alike. Closer connections with supplier subject matter experts can lead to increased purchases and ongoing loyalty. For end users, growing a circle of experts leads to faster problem solving and exposure to new ideas. They also have a chance to grow their personal brand around their expertise as they share it in these communities.

Social networks based around special interest groups will continue to grow to meet the challenge of job complexity, learning curves, and the continued march of new technologies. At least, that’s my prediction–what’s yours?

Check out Jim’s presentation slides from the day.

Jim Cahill Emerson Process Experts


Jim leads the social media efforts for Emerson Process Management, the largest of the Emerson (NYSE:EMR) businesses. He’s also written the Emerson Process Experts blog over the past six years. Its goal is to connect the experts around Emerson with those seeking expertise.

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