Our profession is learned on the job by example and ad-hoc, incidental, or formal mentoring. Experienced APC and E&I engineers have largely left the building. In the new millennium we started a runaway reaction with an accelerating loss of expertise. Are we at a “point of no return?” Is the demise of our profession at the end-user on the horizon? If there are no mentors, there are no future mentors, and eventually no career. We have already seen the extinction of E&I and APC plant and central support groups. Remaining individuals may be reporting to IT or surviving as configuration engineers. Process manufacturers realize they need data and configuration support but instrumentation, modeling, and control is another story. Does IT understand E&I and APC? Have configuration engineers had the chance to think outside the box instead of duplicating what was done before? If there are no E&I and APC engineers how do IT and configuration groups recognize and take advantage of the incredible opportunities afforded by the dramatic improvements in the performance and use-ability of smart instrumentation, smart valves, modeling software, APC tools, and the PID features as exemplified in Don’t Overlook PID in APC?
We know there is a problem. I did a series of Control Talk columns in 2009:
The problem has academic implications. University departments in instrumentation and process control are rare and possibility nonexistent in the USA. Aerospace, chemical, mechanical, electrical, and systems engineering programs offer courses and labs in control but no undergraduate degree. Russ Rhinehart (Control Hall of Fame professor and ISA Transactions Editor) in the Panel “The Present and Future of Automation Worldwide” at ISA Automation Week noted:
• Academe influences academe.
– Academics write the textbooks that academics choose.
– Academics select the best academics to be new academics.
– Academics decide which proposals get funded, which chooses the next generation of leaders in academics.
– Academics talk to academics and invent their own language.
• It is like a continental separation isolating species.
– Soon the species will differentiate.
– There will be no possibility of synergy.
• Industry needs to influence academe
If there are no APC engineers left at the end-user, how do we influence academia? Should we be concerned about a breakdown in the end-user and supplier relationship?
To do my part I have started a personal ISA mentor program (Mentoring, Social Media to Eliminate Deadtime in Your Career). The original program was limited to 4 (ISA Mentor Program – A Guide to Success). After reading the resumes and realizing we were into a runaway that I knew from exothermic reactions required maximum gain action and minimal delay to prevent a “point of no return”, I expanded the program to include 9 talented individuals worldwide. I met the individuals at Automation Week and gave them my insights on how to succeed, which I will share next week. An answer to a general question on E&I, APC, and Project Management is posted each week on the ISA Interchange site. The participants are required to make a presentation at a technical conference and are encouraged to write an article for a magazine or journal.
Can you pay forward?