How to Succeed – Part 3

Over the next year I will be writing a book 101 Ways to a Successful Automation Career. Before getting into specific ways for improving control system design and performance for different types of applications, I stepped back and looked at the more human aspect. I came up with concepts that have personally guided my career. These words of advice were presented  at ISA Automation Week to kick off the mentor program.

1. Find the most knowledgeable people and seek their advice in your company and at the suppliers of the systems you use. Engineers love to solve problems and share their expertise. If you have an intelligent question and take a respectful approach, you can get significant guidance and key ideas.

2. Read a few pages each week of ISA books – handbooks and articles in InTech, Control, and Chemical Processing magazines. If you invest a couple of hours a week, the knowledge will build on itself. These publications are closest to our profession whereas control theory textbooks are more for graduate school. I would particularly read anything by Béla Lipták, Greg Shinskey, and Cecil Smith.

3. Be a good listener. Take notes and only ask questions after long pauses giving the supplier of knowledge the chance to change the route of the conversation.

4. Look for creative opportunities to improve plant profitability. Look for ways to increase production rate, improve product quality, and reduce energy use.

5. Be wary of ways to reduce automation system costs. My biggest mistakes were the result of trying to eliminate instrumentation or use cheaper valves and sensors.

6. Investigate special opportunities as an extracurricular activity. Extra effort at home when inspired may be enough to get an idea formulated. Once the idea appears detailed and useful, you can propose it as an opportunity on the job.

7. Share the idea and give ample credit to associates and management. Document the idea in a memo but follow-up with a lot of personal involvement of the people you need to implement the solution.

8. Don’t be self-limiting in your requests for money and time or attendance at conferences. Most engineers approach their manager essentially saying they probably can’t do something when they should be giving a strong positive idea of what this means personally to them and to the company, manager, and group.

9. Document benefits of improvements. Get the data before and after the implementation of your idea.

10. Find and implement opportunities for online metrics relating to profitability. Computing the ratio online of synchronized energy use rate, heat transfer rate, raw material use rate, and reagent use rate to production rate can provide an incredible wealth of bottom line evidence for maintenance and improvements in the process and the automation system.

11. Write and present papers showing what you accomplished being careful not to fall victim to (8). The recognition is good for you and the company and helps you think through the solution logically and comprehensively. Continually learning and sharing is the key to advancing your career and our profession.  Perceived mistakes are our greatest lessons.

12. Demonstrate and prototype improvements by dynamic models. In the development of the dynamic simulation, you will learn much about what can go right and wrong. Dynamic simulation with trend charts showing improvements makes a convincing case for management and enables extensive testing of your idea. You can start by configuring simple dynamic models graphically using standard function blocks in your DCS to try out process control improvements.