As this is my last column before I step down as President of the South African Institute of Measurement and Control, I would like to take this opportunity to look at what we have achieved in the last year. I can honestly say that the last 12 months have been the most exciting in my six-year involvement with the Institute and I would like to thank the Council Members for their support. Together, my ambition has been to plot the way forward for the Institute and its Members to prosper and grow. My involvement as the immediate past President will be just as active, as I will fully support our incoming President, Dave Howcroft.
Membership and activities in the last year
As with previous years, our membership has remained stagnant at a figure of about 980. This is despite the continued energetic recruitment drive of all branches and sub-branches. In fact, we have seen the most growth at our sub-branches. In other words we are losing members at the same rate as we acquire new ones. This can be attributed to a number of causes such as ill health, emigration, career changes and so on but also more and more members are asking what they get for their fees. The answers to this will become clearer as our new Executive Officer identifies more new and exciting benefits for all members.
While membership holds fast, this does not mean that the Institute has not been active in other areas. The Marketing and Public Relations sub-committee remained focused on one project this year - to pave the way for the Institute to grow into something more meaningful to the industry, Members and Patrons. The first activity was the co-ordination of the Industry Survey which indicated the need to become more proactive in order to offer additional benefits. To this end, it became necessary to appoint an Executive Officer to assist in this matter as well as others. The next step along this road was to amend the constitution to allow for such an appointment, which was done by an overwhelming majority. Mike Marshall, an experienced Instrumentation Project Engineer, is now the SAIMC's first Executive Officer. His job description is a full one and with the support of Members and Patrons, he will be able to add the value that all of our Members deserve.
More changes for the good
At the same time, other changes were made to the Constitution, including a review of membership categories and more importantly, a re-assessment of the qualifications for entry which takes into consideration 'prior learning' and 'previous experience'. These changes would enable the Institute to become more in line with the current requirements of a new generation of instrumentation technologists.
Decentralising the Institute
There has been an increasing pressure to decentralise the activities of the Institute. Historically, members have had to accept travelling long distances in the evenings to attend centralised branch meetings in Durban, Cape Town, Richards Bay and Johannesburg. However, as our socio-economic situation changes, it has become more important to bring the Institute to its members instead of the other way around. In this Internet-enabled age there is a real possibility that most Institute activities do not require Members to travel any further than the nearest computer.
No Negrettis this year
The Negretti sub-committee did not feel that any papers were of a suitable standard to qualify for the Negretti award. This is of concern to the Council and we are exploring ways to encourage Members to submit technical papers for adjudication provided that they have been presented at the Institute-approved functions during the year.
Education grants and training
Despite a number of requests for applications for grants published in the monthly magazine, South African Instrumentation and Control, we have not received any during the year. Possibly we should try harder in the future to emphasise the fact that there are funds available for this purpose.
Spinoffs of globalisation
Of ongoing concern are the effects of globalisation on our market. The pace of mergers and acquisitions has never been higher and it is difficult to console our Members that they will not experience any of the negative effects. Retrenchments, downsizing and outsourcing are taking place every day and our Institute members should work together to retain these skills in our industry. This will be a challenge for the incoming council.
More news on fieldbus
Despite the efforts made by the various international stakeholders, the future of fieldbus is still far from certain. However, in January, the IEC 61158 fieldbus standard was ratified by a majority of 25 out of 29 countries worldwide. The implication is that there is now a guideline that embraces most commercially available fieldbuses such as Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, ControlNET, InterBus S and more. It is hard to foresee how close each technology will get to these guidelines since all are well established in industry. Unless this happens, the concept of interoperability and interchangeability between products of the various buses is not possible.
Since Foundation Fieldbus and Profibus both use the same physical layer at the H1 level for process industries, I expect that there will be market pressure for the products in these applications to become interchangeable soon. However, with the huge political and economic implications, I may be dreaming. In conclusion, I wish the Institute and its Members full speed ahead in 2000.
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