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This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

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Automation Project and Startup Humor – How to Laugh Rather Than Fret

The following insights are part of an occasional series authored by Greg McMillan, industry consultant, author of numerous process control books and a retired Senior Fellow from Monsanto. 

Project meetings and startups can be stressful times to say the least. Here we gain insights by looking at the more laughable things we hear and see as automation engineers. The more ridiculous the statements and actions, the funnier they are. Humor makes the experience more memorable and can enable one Funnyto deal with the situation rather than just get frustrated. We start out with humor in project definition meetings and move on to batch songs and startups culminating in a performance review.

Top 10 Things You Don’t Want to Hear in a Project Definition Meeting
(10) I don’t want any smart instrumentation talking back to me.
(9) Let’s study each loop to see if the valve really needs a positioner.
(8) Lets slap actuators on piping valves & use them for control valves.
(7) We just need to make sure the control valve spec requires the tightest shutoff.
(6) What is the big deal about process control, we just have to set the flow per the PFD.
(5) Just make sure all the flows and the process variables are constant.
(4) The operators can tune the loops.
(3) Let’s do the project for half the money in half the time.
(2) Let’s go with packaged equipment and let the package supplier select and design a low cost automation system (e.g. cheap cheap).
(1) Let’s go out for bids and have purchasing pick the best deal.

Top 10 Songs for a Batch Project
(10) Does Anybody Really Know What Batch This Is?
(9) Another Batch Bites the Dust.
(8) We Gotta Get Data Out of this Process [If It’s the Last Thing we Ever Do].
(7) Good Batches, Bad Batches [You Know I’ve Had My Share].
(6) Correlation Dreaming.
(5) Changes in Variables, Changes in Attitudes.
(4) [There Must Be] 50 Ways to Model Your Process.
(3) This Project ‘s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.
(2) Gimme All Your Data [All Your QA Too].
(1) In-A-Planta-Da-Vida.

For a more comprehensive taste of Greg McMillan's humor, check out his ISA books: How to Become an Instrument Engineer, Part 1.523, Dispersing Heat Through Conviction, Logical Thoughts at 4:00 AM, The Life and Times of an Automation Professional – An Illustrated Guide, and The Funnier Side of Retirement for Engineers and People of the Technical Persuasion. Also at the end of each Control Talk Column is a Top 10 List 

Top 10 Things You Don’t Want to Hear on Startup
(10) We never really could figure out what the old system was doing.
(9) Do I have a system backup?!? I thought you were making backups!
(8) They want to make our start-up into a reality show.
(7) The displays are fine and dandy, but where are the panel boards?
(6) We have changed our mind. We want the old system back.
(5) Can you reprogram it so the wrong valve still works?
(4) Didn't you get the revised batch sheets?
(3) Is a blue screen bad?
(2) What is that burning smell?
(1) We are out of coffee!

Top 10 Signs you need to Tune the Loops
(10) Lots of trials and errors.
(9) When asked what the gain setting is, the answer is given in percent.
(8) When asked what the reset time setting is, the answer is given in repeats/min.
(7) The data historian compression setting is 25 percent.
(6) There is more recycle than product.
(5) Valves are wearing out.
(4) Tempers are wearing thin.
(3) Operators are placing bets on what loop will cause the next shutdown.
(2) The output limits are set to keep the valve from moving.
(1) Preferred mode is manual.

Top 10 Things You Don’t Want to Hear in Your Performance Review
(10) I see you refused to be a sumo wrestler in our team building exercise.
(9) What have you done lately to get me promoted?
(8) Do you have an evil twin?
(7) Can you be replaced by something in the "cloud?"
(6) You are at the top; the only way is down.
(5) Have you thought about another career?
(4) Pick a number from one to 10.
(3) Boy, you are ancient.
(2) What is all this jibber jabber about tuning and loop performance?
(1) Who are you?

These Top 10 lists work best in a presentation to a group of ten or more experienced automation professionals, people who have been in these situations and can appreciate the humor. A large group is good because humor is contagious and there are people with a great sense of humor and no sense of humor. If possible, invite prospective customers, or at least show them the presentation with the ability to hear the audience laughter. I start with a Top 10 list and scatter a few lists throughout my presentation to open minds and provide some comic relief in what is normally a very serious subject. Feel free to use my lists, just give me credit. Of course you can use these lists simply among friends to relax, smile, and enjoy.

Greg McMillan
Greg McMillan
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the digital twin for exploring new opportunities.

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