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It is a rare event that sees all ITER players gathered in one place, with time to spare for both formal and informal meetings. From left to right: Jean-François Renaux and David Lier of Nexans, one of the world leaders in cable manufacturing, and IBF organizers Sabine Portier and Philippe Olivier of Agence Iter France.
A project as complex as ITER, with activities spread over three continents and players speaking some thirty different languages, relies heavily on the quality of communication.
The ITER central team, Domestic Agencies, industrial contractors and laboratories throughout the world are engaged in constant dialogue: a huge flow of information travels back and forth through phone calls, emails, video conferences and synchronized databases.
The men and women working on the project also travel and meet on a regular basis: Domestic Agency heads and their closest collaborators spend approximately one week every month at ITER Headquarters in southern France and technical officers visit colleagues and contractors whenever close personal interaction is required.
It is a rare event, however, that sees all ITER players gathered in one place, with time to spare for both formal and informal meetings and, perhaps above all, a "mental availability" that brings added value to every encounter and conversation.
On 8-11 February, the Monaco-ITER International Fusion Days (MIIFED), coupled with the ITER Business Forum (IBF) provided such an opportunity. Held in the Principality of Monaco, the joint conference attracted 556 participants, representing 285 companies or labs from 26 countries.
653 one-to-one meetings, either business-to-business or business-to-customer, were held during the first three days of the conference.
MIIFED-IBF 2016 turned out to be more than the sum of its parts—the dual event was more about synergy than compilation. Current or potential ITER contractors who traditionally attend the annual IBF conference (the first edition was held in 2007) gained a panoramic view of the ITER Project through the many presentations, round tables and thematic sessions that have been the trademark of MIIFED since the first edition in 2010. For those who had attended MIIFED in the past, including project actors, laboratories, universities and other large scientific collaborations, the three-day event was an occasion to directly, and personally, interact with a large array of industry representatives.
"It's like putting together the pieces of the puzzle," explains Shane Hritz, the international sales director of Lake Shore Cryotronics, a US-based company specialized in cryogenic temperature sensors, probes and controllers. "As a contractor for General Atomics and Air Liquide, I know what ITER is about. But when you come here, you see the whole scope of things, the progress, the excitement... you get this feeling of 'It's going to happen'!"
Like Shane, François Genevey, the ITER project manager for logistics provider DAHER considers that one can't build a genuine, person-to-person relationship through technology only. "In a phone call or a video conference you miss the non-verbal interaction, the body language... When you actually meet people, like we've been doing for three days here, you establish a relationship that will make future phone conversations or email exchanges more direct, confident and efficient."
Another advantage of MIIFED-IBF is the easy access to the upper strata of industry/Domestic Agency management. "People are more accessible in the context of this conference. A friendly chat over a cup of coffee sometimes brings more benefits than a discussion in a director's office. Of course you need both, but one can set the tone for—and ease—the other."
Two factory visits (SIMIC, in Italy, and CNIM, in France) and a visit to the ITER site were part of the optional program, providing a unique opportunity to witness manufacturing or construction progress. (Pictured: the visit to SIMIC.)
MIIFED-IBF is both about quantity and quality. "It's the only conference where one can access the whole environment of the ITER Project," says Jean-François Renaux of Nexans, one of the world leaders in cable manufacturing. "And our interest goes beyond ITER: by attending this conference, we let potential customers know that we too are involved in the project."
On 12 February, the choice of two "technical tours" (SIMIC, in Camerana, Italy and CNIM in La Seyne-sur-Mer, France, both currently manufacturing the toroidal field coil radial plates) or a visit to the ITER site provided the concrete opportunity to witness manufacturing and construction progress.
The 556 participants to MIIFED-IBF had submitted close to 2,000 requests for one-to-one meetings, either B2B ("business-to-business") between industrial companies or B2C ("business to customer") between companies and the ITER Organization or Domestic Agencies. Due to the constraints of individual agendas, 653 were actually held—the best ratio ever attained according to IBF organizers Sabine Portier and Philippe Olivier of Agence Iter France.
These figures, of course, do not include all the conversations and exchanges that took place during lunches, coffee breaks, intermissions, escalator rides or the short walk between the Grimaldi conference centre and the hotels ...
Click here to view a video of MIIFED-IBF 2016 in Monaco