Physical Products Enable the Virtual World

Physical Products Enable the Virtual World

This piece was originally published as the president’s column in the March 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Kevin Cosgriff, President & CEO, NEMA

Software may get all the attention these days, but the world runs on physical products. No matter how smart we make our buildings, how integrated we make our systems, or how interconnected we make our electrical grid, we still need quality infrastructure—things like conduit, fuses, breakers, and wiring devices.

Ultimately, the Internet of Things exists because of these physical “things.” Take, for example, a data center. Comprising thousands of computers and backup servers, it epitomizes the idea of individual physical products working in unison to enable a virtual technology so pervasive as to be commonplace. Without those physical aspects, there would be no email, no smart phones, and no Netflix.

Even larger than that, think about the U.S. power grid. With all its thousands of miles of high-voltage lines and millions of miles of lower-voltage lines, this expansive machine enables no less than modern civilization. Yet it is only as strong as its weakest physical component.

As silly as it may sound, the first rule of troubleshooting is to make sure the unit is plugged in. End users often overlook such obvious physical requirements in their pursuit of more intelligent operations. Ironically, as our world increasingly grapples with intangibles, the prosaic physical aspects are just as important as they have always been. Operating largely in the background, they form the backbone of our electrical world.

Our Member companies make these products and offer services that enable our virtual environment. In doing so, they employ innovative technologies. In this issue of electroindustry, even as we celebrate the things without which the most sophisticated supercomputer would cease to function, we are leaning into the future. I invite you to read how our industry has championed efficient manufacturing processes, such as lean manufacturing, as well as new technologies, such as 3D printing. Standing at the forefront of electrical safety, reliability, and efficiency, NEMA Members are also moving into the virtual world in important areas such as industrial automation.

As a vital and rapidly changing industry, we are excited about the Internet of Things and all it promises. We expect to be leaders in realizing those promises, but we remain grounded in making and marketing the essential components of the electrical world.

Many predict a more digital future for our industry. Yet even as we anticipate the changes ahead, we remain committed to—and appreciative of—the humble things, the essential components that form the foundation of modern society.

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