By Walt Boyes, Editor-in-Chief
, with Dan Hebert, Senior Technical Editor
Larry O’Brien, research director for process industries, ARC, and Gregory K. McMillan, CONTROL ColumnistTHIRTY YEARS AGO
, we began a quest to completely change the manufacturing process. Along the way we’ve improved quality, reliability, throughput and uptime, and created the most profitable manufacturing sector in history, with nearly all of these productivity gains coming from automation and connecting the plant floor to the enterprise. Congratulations, colleagues, we did it.
Lynn Craig, one of the founders of WBF (the Forum for Automation and Manufacturing Professionals) and a member of the Process Automation Hall of Fame, says that from his years in manufacturing management, “control engineers isolated themselves from the rest of the manufacturing world, and were able to get away with it for a very long time.” But that time is over. “Control engineers are being dragged back into the world of manufacturing,” Craig concludes, “by standards like S88 and S95.”
David Beckman, retired Senior Vice President of Emerson Process Management, talked about the future of manufacturing and the role of process automation professionals in that future in his keynote address at WBF this year.
"The worm has turned," Beckman said. "For years, the trend was that, increasingly, the profits we generate go to financial analysts on Wall Street. Profits have evaporated from the people who do the work."
This is about to change. The drug industry has had a meteoric rise, pulp and paper seems to be rebounding, the oil picture appears that we are in for a long period of increasing oil prices, and every one of these growth sectors is going to require more, not less, engineering. As the first world, and increasingly the third world, nations tighten environmental regulation, this will require even MORE engineering.
But even the big engineer-constructors like Fluor, Bechtel, Jacobs and Foster-Wheeler don't have the expertise to do the projects that are currently on the drawing boards. We tried to save our way to success by cutting staff and reducing training. What is clear is that this is no longer working. Beckman showed a slide of a "new operator," with spiked hair and a tongue pierce, and asked, "What is the potential that they
will be able to take over from us
Engineering graduate demographics in North America and Europe are dropping dramatically. "When was the last time you saw a television show that featured the 'engineer guy' as the hero?" Beckman asked. He quotes Dr. Ken Cooper, adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who studied a recent graduating class of engineers at UP, and discovered that none of them could successfully define PID. Almost all of them knew that the "P" was for proportional, less than half knew that the "I" stood for integral, and NONE of them knew that the "D" was for derivative.
"Industry has to take a strong hand in convincing academia that there is a crying need for control specialists," Beckman admonished. This is an almost eerie dovetail with a CONTROL editorial ("C'mon Vendors, Let's Step Up!"
CONTROL 2005). If end user companies and vendors aren't careful, there won't be enough engineers to make stuff work.
In the old paradigm, the corporation is the master, we are the slaves. In the new paradigm, the means of production is knowledge
which is owned by the knowledge workers and is highly portable.
In the new paradigm, a large number of employees will become knowledge workers, working under contract as professionals. "Job security," Beckman opined, "is in what you know, not who you work for. I can't tell you all of what the new paradigm will look like," Beckman said. But we can.
The new paradigm is headed toward process automation professionals very fast. As Rich Merritt said in his column in the August issue of CONTROL, “the technologies and techniques I wrote about have hit our industry like a freight train.” That’s right. While the process industries have been reviving and jobs have been increasing, the new paradigm is expanding and the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.The DCS Revolution Started It
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Distributed Control System, or DCS. The development of the DCS closely mirrors that of process automation itself, moving from proprietary technologies and closed systems to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components, industry standard field networks, and Windows operating systems. But the most important transformation was from a system focus to a focus on business processes and achieving operational excellence (OE) in process plants. The control engineer has been dragged into the world of manufacturing.
The DCS was introduced in 1975 by both Honeywell and Yokogawa, who had each produced their own independently designed products, the TDC2000 and the CENTUM systems. This marked the dawn of the system-centric era of the 1970s. Central to the DCS model was the inclusion of function blocks, which continue to be the fundamental building block of control for DCS suppliers, and fieldbus technologies.
In the 1980s, users began to look at DCSEs as more than just basic process control. Suppliers began to adopt Ethernet-based networks, with their own proprietary protocol layers. The 1980s witnessed the first PLCs integrated into the DCS infrastructure, as companies such as Rockwell, Siemens, Schneider and others entered the DCS market. The 1980s also witnessed the beginning of the Fieldbus Wars, continuing to this day.