CONTROL invites you to "Ask the Experts" presents "Ask the Experts," a new department moderated by noted process control authority and columnist Bela Liptak. Save yourself the hefty consulting fees by getting the answers to your questions from Liptak's cadre of professional automation experts.

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Where are the best opportunities in the field of process control?
I completed a 2-year Industrial Instrumentation program in 1986 and then became an operator at an oil refinery later that year. I worked as an operator for 12 years and then started in the process control department of the refinery in 1999 – where I still work (I also have a science degree). An opportunity is now available to work in the instrumentations department, which involves a training program similar to the one I took in 1984-1986. I am not presently a journeymen technician, however, this new opportunity would lead to that. What do you believe offers the best future in the industry, continuing my work in process control, or becoming a registered field technician?

Doug Kermode


I believe the opportunities will be greater where you’re at in process control. As instrumentation has become more digital, and therefore smarter, the need for the special skills of the instrument field technician, at least as they've been traditionally known, has diminished and will continue to do so. I find more and more that this just seems to be added to the responsibilities of process control personnel, process and operations people.

Carlos Smith, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Academics, University of South Florida

You need to determine the lifestyle you want. You will likely make more money as a technician, but will be subjected to working in the elements, rather than as an engineer at a desk. I recommend you get your journeyman ticket and then you will have the option of pursuing whichever path you choose.

Ian Verhappen, Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Both positions can be very rewarding. I have seen a number of control technicians (and operators) move into process controls departments, but not the other way around. As a member of a process controls team/department for the past 10 years, I have seen many opportunities that build on the knowledge of a control technician position. And if you’re looking for a job with a quickly expanding description that contains ever changing opportunities, I would recommend the process controls position.

Scott Clark, Senior Engineer, Automation & Information Services

There might be more job security at the technician level, but if the person is interested in how well the instruments, valves, and controllers play together to make a product efficiently, I would suggest becoming a Certified Automation Professional (CAP). The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation (ISA) Society has developed a CAP study and certification program that includes a study guide and a series of books. As you can imagine the material is quite diverse so I would pick one area to specialize in such as continuous improvement. Here you will need to learn about process interactions and relationships. For me, besides learning the fundamentals of process control, building dynamic simulations, reviewing process trends, and talking to the operators was the key to finding opportunities and dealing with practical problems. New tools have advanced the art of simulation, analysis, tuning, and advanced control. If you can make the operator's job easier and make money for the company, you become a valuable asset. However, the people who make these decisions may not recognize these opportunities. Demos targeted to the areas of interest using dynamic simulations and new control capabilities that show the financial gain online impresses key management because they can see it in action and shows the bottom line. It becomes real. If this is followed by a successful application, the door is open. In my case, my normal job as an instrument design and construction engineer for the first seven years of my career didn't require any of this as part of the job, so I did it on my own time. People are usually open to new ideas especially if they don't have to put any money up front. Some people took notice and offered me a job working in Engineering Technology, and the rest is history.

Greg McMillan


Valve-position Control with an External Reset Feedback.
I am interested in the loop diagram you showed for the VPC controller you described in The Hard Road to Our Competitive Edge—Part 1. The VPC-2 shows two dotted lines into the controller, one from the valve position selector (obviously the PV) and one from PT-01.The VPC-2 set point is shown as 90%. What is the function of the line from PT-01? I have an experiment in my control class that I want to modify to demonstrate to my students this energy saving concept. We have a DeltaV system here in the lab and that signal is called "backcalculate." By the way, the savings using that system are great. I just roughed some $3400 per year if you went, for 1000 GPM, from 20 to 10 psig, lowering the speed, HP from 16.2 to 7.4, I used a Durco pump select program.

Robert L. Heider, Adjunct Professor, Chemical Engineering Department, Washington University, St. Louis.


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