With a little help from my friends

CONTROL Senior Technical Editor Rich Merritt adds to his growing collection of writing awards and takes time out to give credit to control engineers who make it possible.

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By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

I'VE WON A few writing awards in the past couple of years, and it’s time to give credit to the people who made it possible: The control engineers who feed me the information I need to write those award-winning articles.

As you probably know, CONTROL magazine has a different philosophy than most other technical trade magazines. We write news stories, columns and tech articles that are intended to help our readers, not to promote advertisers’ products. Therefore, whenever I have a writing assignment, I ping about 200 CONTROL readers, and ask for their help.

I also ask the vendors what they think are the major trends and issues on any given topic, and I often get useful and interesting inputs, free of blatant product plugs. Some of the vendors, especially those with “old PR pros,” know what I need. Alas, some of the inputs I get from other vendors are self-serving and product-centric. That is, their opinion of the world is biased by their need to sell products.

On the other hand, the information I get from my circle of end-user contributors is based on real-life experiences, real-world problems, and the perspective of working with the hardware and software on a daily basis.

Here’s a quote from a recent article, talking about outsourced support: “If you ask one of their technical people a question, they usually know less than I do…I see their controls expertise as ‘entry level’ or perhaps slightly more advanced than the average instrument technician.”

Here’s another: “I cannot begin to describe how discouraging it is to call on ‘outside help’ only to get a highly educated yet inexperienced technician that could not find his way out of a paper sack.”

Another reader alerted me to the problems of the “Magic Bolt” often used to secure explosion-proof cabinets. He said technicians often cut the heads off 50 or 60 bolts, and use only one bolt to hold the cover on. It makes you wonder if the Magic Bolt had anything to do with the recent explosion in Texas.

“An article filled with comments from engineers is much more interesting than a bunch of quotes from vendors plugging their products”

This is the kind of stuff you don’t read anywhere else. And it’s because of you, who are willing to share your knowledge with your colleagues through CONTROL magazine. I think an article filled with anecdotes and comments from real engineers is much more interesting than a bunch of quotes from vendors plugging their products. And that’s why I win awards: because you make the articles interesting, readable and useful.

I also hear your frustrations about the state of our industry, the outsourcing of jobs, layoffs, and so on. Here’s another quote: “My former employer is in its third round of job cuts, including engineers, since I left in January 2001…That is why several of its plant engineers are looking to hire me on a temporary basis to help out during crunch times.  This keeps their headcount down to please management.”

It’s been so bad out there, you haven’t been recommending your career to your own children. I’ve gotten the reputation of being Mr. Doom-and-Gloom because I harp on these problems so much, but our philosophy is to support you, the end users, and do what we can as a magazine to promote our profession.

Compare our coverage with that of other magazines, who editorially pooh-pooh such problems and choose to interview the presidents of control system vendors instead of you. While I am always interested in what the presidents of the Big Six automation firms have to say, I know they consider what effect their published statements will have on their stock price. So, to them the future is always rosy, the economy is always recovering, and business always looks good – while the readers of CONTROL magazine are being laid off.

If you would like to join my circle of end user contributors, send me an email (address below). I’ll enshrine you in my data base and send you a query on every article I write, asking you to wax philosophically, elucidate effusively, and share your knowledge with your colleagues. You don’t have to contribute every month – few do – just jump in when you know the topic and have something interesting to say.

I like winning awards, and I need your help to do it.

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