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Nov
10

How to Succeed – Part 1

The capability of field instrumentation, distributed control systems, and advanced process control (APC) software has dramatically increased. At the same time, energy and environmental requirements and the need for worldwide competitiveness have increased. Production units more than ever need to be able to take advantage of their automation and APC systems. Yet there is a disturbing decline in the number of APC and instrumentation engineers in the plants. The career I had for 33 years at  Monsanto/Solutia in instrumentation, modeling, and control is becoming extinct. If the people making decisions do not understand the role of these engineers and buy into the idea that new system and software sophistication eliminate the need for these engineers, these engineers are looked at as a cost rather an asset.

The keynote speakers at ISA Automation Week really brought the issue home to roost. Charlie Cutler said real time optimization systems have largely failed due to lack of plant engineers. Charlie said there should 3 APC engineers; one to develop new capability, one to support existing capability, and one to be the engineer in training to inherit the system. Bélá Lipták said the most important missing resource is the automation engineer. Greg Shinskey said the automation engineer should know better than the process engineer how to control and optimize the process.

A study done by a consulting firm for the executives at a large chemical manufacturer concluded that upper management was underpaid and the plants were overstaffed. I doubt the consultants or the executives understood what an APC and instrumentation engineer does for them. The first thought is perhaps all automation system development and design can simply be all contracted out even though system integrators may lack initiative and plant experience and simply end up doing what they are told. I see the solution in terms of plant engineers showcasing their talent. To educate and get the recognition needed to promote themselves and their profession, plant engineers need to document and present.

My career could be titled “How to Succeed in Show Business without Really Trying.” I had no master plan and no intent of becoming important or making a lot of money. My motivation was not to sell myself or my ideas but simply to advance the understanding of the technology in our profession. I was encouraged by the inspirational director of Engineering Technology (the late Dr James Fair Professor Emeritus at UT) to write reports, develop short courses, and publish. Even though I am introverted like most engineers, by presenting and writing becoming part of my job the whole deal became second nature. I can stand up in front of an audience and cameras and just start talking. Similarly, I can just sit down at a keyboard and start writing (no outline just an idea). I now accept this happens naturally. There is feeling of freedom and an art of discovery that comes from doing this extemporaneously. For me there is a synergy between writing and talking. This has lead to fun interviewing  colleagues and capturing their experience  for my monthly Control Talk Column in Control magazine.

To give you examples of what you can do with experience and the freedom to share what you learn, here are my three 90 minute tutorial and one regular session presentations at ISA Automation Week 2011:

ISA-AW-2011-Biological-and-Chemical-Reactor-Control-Opportunities-Paper

ISA-AW-2011-Biological-and-Chemical-Reactor-Control-Opportunities-Presentation

ISA-AW-2011-pH-Measurement-and-Control-Opportunities-Paper

ISA-AW-2011-pH-Measurement-and-Control-Opportunities-Presentation

ISA-AW-2011-Wireless-Measurement-and-Control-Opportunities-Paper

ISA-AW-2011-Wireless-Measurement-and-Control-Opportunities-Presentation

ISA-AW-2011-Corn-Analysis-Modeling-and-Control-for-Ethanol-Yield-Optimization-Paper

ISA-AW-2011-Corn-Analysis-Modeling-and-Control-for-Ethanol-Yield-Optimization-Presentation

My biggest problem was cutting back the reactor control tutorial. I had way too much text and figures to fit even in a 90 minute session so I decided to write a book. Strangely enough books on reactor control give just the university graduate control program and process design/simulation view. Not much on the practical industrial control solutions. I see an opportunity.