n this time and age where process control and IT equipment are an integral part of achieving manufacturing excellence, it is a requirement that both process control and IT professionals co-exist," says Bruce Johnson, IE Controls Manager, The Lubrizol Corporation. "Both professions bring different expertise to the table, but when merged together effectively, the end result is a successful and seamless enterprise integration," he continues. Of course, Bruce is right.
So, why did almost 40% of the respondents to CONTROL's July Webpoll respond, "They leave us alone, we leave them alone?" Even worse, how about the 10% who responded, "cold, chilly silence punctuated by screaming," and the 13% who indicated the model behavior at their plant was "hysterical antagonism?"
For sure, more than 30% of the responses agreed with Johnson. "It helps when you’re effectively the same department," one reader commented. "Someone once asked our process control lead, âWill you have trouble getting your IT group to give you some fiber strands?’ She looked at me—the pointy-haired boss of both groups—smiled and said, âI don’t think so.’" Another reader wrote, "I AM the Plant Floor Automation AND the Enterprise IT. We get along just fine, but we have too much work to do."
There has been an acknowledged problem in getting Enterprise IT and Plant Automation IT to work together at many process plants. "IT personnel always think that this is their responsibility," one reader wrote, "until they get their hands wet and run crying for help." This attitude has been typical at more plants than not for a long time. Many knowledgeable observers think that this has been one of the significant causes of failure for integration projects over the past decade.
Let me give you some food for thought. IT is being outsourced at a faster rate than process automation expertise at the plant level. The trade off is that it is rather difficult to kick start your e-mail server at three in the morning from Bangalore, but IT in Bangalore is much cheaper. It seems to me that a process automation professional with serious IT skills is much more employable over the long term than a simple IT worker, or a process control technician. The jobs require many of the same skills, since the hardware platforms are migrating toward convergence, and the software platforms, in many cases are the same Microsoft or NIX platform. By inspection, it is easier for a plant automation professional to add the Enterprise IT skillset to the experience of making a process plant run right than it is for a straight IT worker to get up to speed on how, for example, a distillation column works. And it is simply impossible to completely outsource process automation workers and control the plant remotely.
There will be hiccups. As another of our readers wrote, "My company just combined the IT and process control groups into one. So we can’t have any communications problems now. Right?" But the end of that road is "a successful and seamless enterprise integration." We are already beginning to see that it is possible for American process plants to compete on the world stage, but only if we can continue to be the world’s productivity leader. For you as a process automation professional, grabbing this trend and running with it will give you large benefits in your career path, job stability and employability. So, go for it.