ANN ARBOR, MI -- Some 450 automation industry leaders from around the world descended on the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort for the annual Association for Advancing Automation (A3) Business Forum.  A3 hosts this event in conjunction with the AIA Business Conference, MCA Business Conference, and Robotics Industry Forum, with a focus on how new and emerging technologies have created opportunities for automation professionals around the world. With growth of nearly 20% from last year's event and over 120 first-time attendees, the 2014 A3 Business Forum reached more leaders from the robotics, machine vision and motion control industries than ever before.

The A3 Business Forum started with our inaugural "First Time Attendee Primer." With so many first timers this year, we wanted to ensure our new guests were welcomed and introduced to attendees that have been coming year after year, who would help them maximize the value of the conference and make the connections that they were looking to make. The primer was a great success, the room was packed and it created a "buzz" that lasted through the rest of the week!

The entire group then gathered for the first keynote, Dennis Snow, a former Disney executive. Dennis kicked off the event with a presentation on "Creating a World-Class Service Organization".   He urged executives to look at everything through the lens of the customer, a practice that has proven to be successful for Disney.  Snow's talk motivated attendees to always focus on their customers needs when making business decisions. Attendees then moved to the always popular opening night reception where AIA, RIA and MCA members had the opportunity to get to know new members, meet up with old friends, and enjoy some food and beverages.  Attendees could also interact with people from miles away using the telepresence robot "Beam" from Suitable Technologies.

Day two of the Business Forum started with a morning full of excellent keynote speakers. Leading off was Adam Steltzner, the lead landing engineer on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project, whose presentation described the challenges he and his team faced and the lessons learned while accomplishing such an amazing feat. It helped the audience understand how to lead their own high performance teams, manage innovation and drive excellence forward. "Great works and great folly may be indistinguishable at the outset," said Steltzner.

Robert Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, spoke on "Competitiveness, Innovation and Productivity: The Global Race for Advantage." Atkinson helped dispel the notion that automation takes jobs, but rather creates them. Finally, Larry Bock, founder and principal of Science Spark, as well as creator and executive director of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, gave an exciting presentation about their upcoming festival in a presentation titled "Shock and Awe: Getting Students Excited About Science and Engineering." The festival will be held in Washington, D.C. April 26-27, 2014.

After a networking lunch, the afternoon consisted of breakout sessions, which included a lineup of speakers talking separately about new technologies in focused areas such as vision, motion control, and robotics. There were also discussions on industry market trends, as well as updates on robot and vision standards.

The second day of the A3 Business Forum ended with a group dinner and sports party. Attendees were urged to wear an article of clothing from their favorite sports team while playing pool, foosball, air hockey and other games. It was a great opportunity for attendees to connect with fellow business partners, friends and new contacts in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

The final day of the conference began with a very interesting presentation by John Dulchinos, vice president for Global Automation at Jabil, Inc. The former robotics company executive talked about automation opportunities in contract manufacturing. The closing keynote was Alan Beaulieu, principal, Institute for Trend Research, who gave his take on the 2014 global economic forecast. There were two additions made to the program this year, a post forum marketing workshop on Social Networking, which was very well attended, and a networking Airboat Excursion.