A Dynamic Automation Profession in Latin America

By Eric Cosman

Industry Trends

On June 14th-16th the Colombia section of the International Society for Automation (ISA Colombia) held their sixth annual exposition and technical congress (Automatisa 2017) at the International Business and Exhibitions Center in Bogota, Colombia. The theme of the event was “Automation without limits: Industrial automation, instrumentation and plant intelligence.” Both the exposition and congress drew participants from several countries in Latin America. The event program included speakers and exhibitors addressing the latest information on Industrial Automation, Plant Instrumentation and Intelligence, Plant Safety and Security in Central America, the Andean Region and the Caribbean.

ISA Colombia started with the purpose of gathering professionals in the automation, instrumentation and control industry, to facilitate technical relationships and the exchange of opinions. They host this event each year as part of their objective to disseminate knowledge about available technologies in Automation and Instrumentation in the region. They do this by promoting and presenting training services, certifications, consultancy, standardization and auditing.

My first impression of the exposition and congress was that the demographics were significantly different than what we see at a similar event in North America. There were more young people present than what I have typically seen at such an event, including a large number of students from universities in the region. I was impressed with the high level of energy and enthusiasm about the subject of automation. It was particularly gratifying to see that many of these students and young professionals are interested in an automation-related career. Many have written about the difficulty of attracting younger people to STEM-related professions in North America. I found myself thinking about what we might learn from the experiences in smaller countries like Colombia and others in the region.

I was privileged to attend this event as a keynote speaker, addressing the topic “Industrial Automation and Controls Systems Security: Past, Present and Future.” Industrial cybersecurity was one of the major themes of the technical conference. It also featured prominently in the exposition, with several major suppliers showing their hardware and software products and services.

Based on the number and quality of the comments that I received on my presentation, it is quite apparent that much of the region is only beginning to consider what they must do to protect their critical infrastructure from cybersecurity-related risk. In Colombia, the national focus has long been on traditional terrorism and physical threats. Recent peace agreements have allowed the government to begin to broaden this perspective to include cybersecurity.

While the general level of understanding of cyber-threats appears to be similar to that in North America in the early 2000’s, I sensed a desire to improve their response based on the experience in other regions. This presents an opportunity for increased adoption of standards, practices, technology and solutions in Latin America. Judging by the supplier presence at the conference, it appears that several major companies have recognized this and are interested in expanding their business in this market.

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