The following discussion is part of an occasional series showcasing the ISA Mentor Program, authored by Greg McMillan, industry consultant, author of numerous process control books, 2010 ISA Life Achievement Award recipient, and retired Senior Fellow from Solutia, Inc. (now Eastman Chemical). Greg will be posting questions and responses from the ISA Mentor Program, with contributions from program participants.
Greg McMillan’s Question
What is your personal wish list of prospective achievements in process automation? What are the future capabilities, practices, and management needed to make this a reality and to make your job and the plant more productive?
Russ Rhinehart’s Answer
My personal achievement wish list would be to see Leapfrogging optimization, steady state detection, incremental model coefficient adjustment, first-principles models in control, and validation methods for model testing to become accepted practice! These are methods that I pursued in my academic career, and my hope as a legacy of tools to leave others. Maybe these following ideas are not aligned with my personal achievement desires, but they are my desire for the community.
- College degrees in the U.S. that prepare graduates for automation careers. Maybe this could be a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, but I think it might be easier to create a Master of Science (MS) program that adds automation topics to the undergraduates. I think that there are several distinct flavors of the program, defined by the requirements of different application domains. Process engineering (characterized by applications that are nonlinear, constrained, slow, noisy, continually changing, unique, with batch as well as continuous). Information engineering (big data, fraud, cybersecurity, computer systems, and fault detection/identification). Mechanical/aero (nonlinear, fast, autonomy within teams of devices, digital twins, original equipment manufacturer [OEM] systems). Electrical (linear, very fast, and oscillating). I don’t think that one program could prepare graduates for all of the application domains. Although there are common feedback principles, there are big differences in modeling approaches, context, and environment.
- Redirect academic research to focus on industry needs, instead of the academic frontier of what might be possible. This would be a shift in the national agenda, laws, internet protocol (IP) policy, federal agency funding policies, university conventions for stature, and for faculty tenure and promotion.
- Enable continuing professional education and individual lifelong learning. The industry continually moves employees into and out of control-related assignments. Employees need to learn the fundamentals quickly and independently. The International Society of Automation (ISA) could develop materials to support independent learning. However, this is not having ISA offer training for certification or offering courses that get continuing education units (CEUs), although the content may be the same. We need to let the employee decide what subset of things they need to learn, and to do it on their schedule.
- Have control engineering, automation engineering, or something similar become recognized as a profession and education program within the U.S.
- Have distributed control system (DCS) and programmable logic controller (PLC) vendors provide computing capacity and easier integration of user-developed code into control algorithms (nonlinear control, output characterization, statistical process control [SPC]-tempered action, human linguistic feedback, and feedforward rules, etc.) and data and process analysis routines.
- Have vendors adopt a common terminology, such as that being suggested by the ISA 5.9 standard committee.
- Have vendors and users collaborate to create training materials needed for inexperienced entrants into process control jobs.
- Have ISA provide significant support to the development and success of student sections in universities, in the U.S. especially. In the U.S., there are no control engineering (or similarly named) BS degrees, but there is significant graduate level research. Those students would love to have a professional development organization helping them identify, prepare for, and find control-related careers.
Matthew Howard’s Answer
My personal wish list is:
- To implement proportional–integral–derivative (PID) external reset feedback knowingly and appropriately.
- I need to further study and understand the application.
- I need an appropriate opportunity to present itself in my process.
- To train and mentor a younger, new hire in my position.
- My colleagues so far are all much older than I am (a blessing for sure!).
- I just need to be patient, grey hair will come with time.
- The adoption of a more sophisticated use of Highway Addressable Remote Transducer (HART) and other protocols to improve predictive valve maintenance.
- I hope to see my old systems migrated to a more modern platform, allowing software engineering to become more efficient and transparent.
- I hope to see a greater overall appreciation of controls by my peers as an engineering discipline instead of “magic.”
- This is a career endeavor that is realized by learning, educating, and promoting the reality of process controls every day.
- Probably my greatest wish is to continue to enjoy my career in this line of work, supporting my family and company along the way
Then there is the always obligatory more hands, more brains, more time, better listening, a bigger heart, and perfect execution!
Hunter Vegas’s Answer
Career achievements: Probably the one achievement that has eluded me would be becoming an ISA Fellow.
System capabilities: Graphic development seems to lag logic development considerably. It would be nice to be able to do things like:
- Export templates, replicate and update them, then import them back in, similar to control modules (some systems do this, but not very well.)
- Easily determine the underlying code in a graphic without having to click and open every element looking for stuff. Conversions are very painful.
- Putting the information to HART to configure an instrument in the instrument. The Yokogawa Brain terminal did this years ago–you hooked it up, it pulled up the config files from the instrument, and you could set it up. It didn’t matter how old or new the instrument was, you had what you needed. It is maddening and rather silly that you must continuously update your HART handheld to talk to an instrument.
Technical expertise: I am finding it increasingly difficult to find information on systems, instruments, etc. Historically we had contacts via ISA to ask about their experience with brand X or Y. Now those conversations are less frequent and finding unbiased information is hard to come by.
Luis Navas’s Answer
- I consider that there is, generally, a gap between the industry and the academy. Therefore, the academy should turn to the industry and focus on that. There are a lot of opportunities to exploit in that arena. A solid bond between the parties would be an extraordinary tool with promising results.
- Improve my knowledge and go more in-depth on PIDs and Advanced Regulatory Control. My participation in the ISA 5.9 committee since its beginnings in 2019 was a tremendous experience. I´ve had the opportunity to deal with them as a process control engineer, but the path is long and each process optimization is unique by its own particularities.
- Improve my skills related to how to assess the feasibility, cost-benefit, and return on investment (ROI) of a process control optimization project. Things such as how to calculate the benefits after the improvement; sometimes this can get very complicated. Therefore, a case study program and statistical knowledge will be helpful.
- Improve my knowledge in how to deal with multivariable process controls and go more in-depth in this area.
- Write a book with some colleagues to share the kind of practice knowledge that is typically difficult to find. The “how-to;” the “dos” and “don’ts;” the “musts;” the lessons learned; and recommended practices.
- Get involved in the academy at some point in the future. In the past, I was a teaching assistant during my studies for several subjects. During my professional career, I was a certified instructor in a couple of trainings of a recognized DCS and safety instrumented systems (SIS) brand. After that experience, I supported the Richard Feynman’s quote, “If you want to master something, teach it.” On the other hand, among my best professors were those who had both the academic knowledge and the practical knowledge of the industry. I would also like to be the kind of professor that returns what I receive to the generations that will come after me.
- That the technical career be valued and recognized. There is a trend where the managerial career is better paid and with more benefits. Therefore, many of my technical colleagues, seasoned engineers with a very solid technical background, at some point in their careers change over to the managerial career. Not necessarily because they would have liked it, but because it was better paid and with more benefits.
- Achieve another ISA certification. I am still thinking which one based on my next steps and current circumstances.