Happy Birthday, IndustryArena!
What started as a hobby for CNC user and consultant Frank Nolden is today the largest online skills network in the industry - IndustryArena.com. This year the industry community is celebrating its 15th birthday.
From CNC-Arena to IndustryArena
Just as young people can hardly imagine a world without smartphones, for many CNC practitioners, a world without IndustryArena.com is inconceivable. But it has not been around forever. Just 15 years ago, there was no way to rapidly communicate with colleagues from other companies about problems in CNC machining. Frank Nolden changed all that. In his free time, and on his own at first but then later along with other likeminded users, he launched today’s leading industry forum under the name CNC Arena. In 2006, he took the forum to an international level; then in 2009, he professionalized the support offered by creating a limited liability company with the involvement of the industry association VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association). In 2013, he established a partnership with the US forum CNCZone.com, which he then took over in 2016. In 2015, he acknowledged that the world of CNC production could no longer remain an island and that it had to start networking with other production processes. The result: CNC Arena has taken a further step in its development and has become IndustryArena.com, addressing a wider range of topics. In 2016, the forum’s anniversary year, Nolden’s team, now with more than 20 full-time employees, is moving to a new, ultramodern office in Langenfeld, Germany.
The CNC Arena and IndustryArena forums have changed the industry. They have brought users closer together but also closer to suppliers. What more is there to say? The Siemens SINUEMRIK team says congratulations and thank you!
Facebook for CNC professionals
An interview with Frank Nolden about the early years and the future of the forum
Mr. Nolden, how did you come up with the idea of starting an online forum for CNC users back in 2001?
Actually, it happened in the usual way: I was looking for a solution to an urgent problem in a production sequence. At the time, I was working as a CNC solutions consultant, and I saw all the problems practitioners were experiencing in companies. They were left to their own devices, as there was no communication between users at various manufacturing companies. And at the same time, the work, machines and processes were becoming increasingly complex. The only information source for users was the suppliers - and CNC users did not always get answers from them within a reasonable time frame or that fully answered their questions. That’s when I came across the first travel forums, where travelers could share information on the Internet. That gave me the idea to start up a similar forum for CNC users - an information and dialogue platform for like-minded people.
How did you come up with the name CNC Arena?
It was quite literally staring me in the face: the topic was CNC, and, living in Cologne, I saw the Cologne Arena on an almost daily basis. It wasn’t a strategic consideration, more of a gut decision. But it worked well.
What were the biggest challenges when the forum started?
There was the fact that to begin with, I had to do everything on my own and alongside my job. During the day, I advertised to CNC users at the companies I visited as a consultant, using homemade information flyers. Then at night, I sat in front of the computer. I really did have to develop everything myself, and I also monitored the content of the forums. I then gradually found volunteers to support me with the monitoring, some of whom still work for us to this day. Of course there was resistance, and I couldn’t always count on cooperation. Quite the opposite, in fact: people who wanted discussions and an exchange of information with other companies were seen as "spies." Neither the users nor the manufacturing companies, and especially not the suppliers, were prepared to openly share information back then.
How did you finance it?
To begin with, it was just an expensive hobby. And even for my first helpers in monitoring the forums, it was nothing more than that. We all sacrificed a lot of free time and money back then. But there was always one thing that remained important to us: the forum had to be free for CNC users. And that is how it has stayed to this day. Gradually, we got our first sponsors from the industry. Siemens was one of the first companies to support us as a sponsor. And it always remained clear: the companies were not to have any influence on the forums or access to addresses. Today, we have more than 3,000 companies as partners. These companies can provide information in various ways - for example, via our social media newsroom, webinars, job portals, information materials and so on. But we always keep a close eye on the user forums to make sure they remain free of influence, and we take strict action in the event of any abuse. Since 2009, the monitoring has been carried out professionally by a limited liability company with the involvement of the German Machine Tool Builders’ Association. Since then, I’ve essentially turned my hobby into a job - what more could a person want?
In 2015, you renamed the platform IndustryArena.com. Not all CNC users and partners thought it was a good move. What were your reasons for doing this?
Even when CNC Arena was founded, what I wanted to do was give users the knowledge they needed to perform their day-to-day work. And I wanted to do it so quickly that it could actually be used in their day-to-day work. Our team wanted to pool the expertise of all users, so that they could master the increasingly complex work processes in the CNC-based production sector.
Today, practitioners are facing new challenges: digitalization, networking, Industrie 4.0. By changing our name, we want to show that the world of CNC-based production is not an island. Machining technology remains the foundation, but we practitioners need to network, communicate with other areas of industrial production, and represent process chains that are both integrated and highly flexible. We need a skills network for the entire industrial production sector - and that’s exactly what IndustryArena is intended to be.
On the occasion of the forum’s anniversary, you opened your new office in April…
Yes, more than 1,000 qm of state-of-the-art office facilities. We have developed into a full-service agency for communication with users. Our ICC - Industry Competence Center - offers space for seminars, workshops and conferences. And, in addition to the virtual forum of IndustryArena.com, we also want to establish a real-world communication space here. We advise companies and help them communicate with users and customers in a more modern, effective and, most importantly, open way. We organize events, we produce videos, and we have a magazine and develop websites. Thanks to our long experience as operators of IndustryArena.com, we are able to offer users and manufacturers, as well as suppliers, a great deal of added value here. We always focus on ensuring that users also benefit from improved communication with suppliers.
What are you most pleased about in terms of the development of the forum?
I think we have been able to really change the way we communicate in our industry, and our forum helps many users on a daily basis. All this is still free to users. And it allows for professional dialogue. Of course, there are occasional angry users in the forum who need to vent their frustration and stress. However, thanks to our extremely experienced moderators, we are able to resolve these issues in a targeted manner. We then communicate with the companies and bring specific users and suppliers into a personal dialogue - sometimes even away from the forum. And that’s precisely why we always collect real names and telephone numbers when users register with us. The fact that no one except us uses these details is what sets us apart from many modern social platforms. I’m really proud of that, too. IndustryArena.com has proven extremely useful for users, which is precisely what I wanted when I set up the forum.