He adds, "I believe the future will be a very exciting time for industry and for industrial automation. "When I joined the process industries back in the 1970s, I found it to be one of the most 'solution-oriented' fields I could find. Over the past 30 years, technological features overwhelmed much of this solutions-focus, and often these new technology features offered little or no value. I would much prefer to be in a solutions-focused environment in which the great minds of industry can concentrate on providing value-generating solutions that simultaneously improve the safety and environmental integrity of industry."
What We Do Matters
"You cannot have a sustainable society without the manufacture of goods," Martin says. "And we know how to manufacture goods profitably, safely and cleanly. Engineering may be the most valuable profession in industry and in the world. As an industry we need to communicate the value of what we do to society and get ourselves out on the forefront of this discussion."
He adds, "I believe I would do the same thing given the opportunity to start again. I believe that what we do is important to the world. We all want to have a positive impact on the world in which we live, and I believe our profession provides great opportunities to have that impact. Industrial automation systems are among the most sophisticated and high-impact technologies being used today. We need to communicate this. We also need to use the technology to provide more attractive work environments for all industrial personnel. People must regain their pride in making things that society needs. The automation industry can help make this happen."
On the same subject, Dennis Brandl adds, "I grew up with the TV show "McGyver" as a role model for engineers, but there is no equivalent today. As manufacturing professionals, we need to engage high school students and show them the fun involved in building robots, competing in science fairs and building model rockets and model planes. There will be some percentage that will find a lot of value in building 'stuff' and making 'stuff' work. These students need to see that a career in manufacturing can not only be fun, but it also can be profitable."
Verhappen agrees. "I think Dean Kamen is taking one right approach with FIRST Robotics, and the main reason for success is that this program reaches young people when they are making the decisions—middle school. We need to be able to come up with a way to overcome the concept that science and engineering are bad and show that good science and engineering, especially monitoring and control, are the best ways to help the environment while enjoying a good living. We also need to emphasize that university is not the only option, because we need at least as many instrument technicians as we do engineers, because once something is designed, someone needs to build and maintain it for the next 20-plus years."
MacGregor pointed out that students will opt for the fad choices and also for the most lucrative fields. "One good thing going for engineering in general is that the financial collapse has reduced the stream of people into those industries and made careers where you have to work for a living more attractive."
He continues, "In general, Canada has no problem, and Canadian universities graduate lots of process systems engineers, with the surplus moving to the United States. The problem is with the American universities and research funding agencies in the USA. The funding agencies fund the current fads (systems engineering not being one of them), and professors follow the money. The major U.S. research universities are mostly interested in training students to enter their graduate programs rather than industry, and they don't encourage a process systems engineering stream and, in fact, don't even offer control and statistics courses to their undergrads. So look to the U.S. funding agencies as the problem. The reason we have no shortage of people entering the process systems engineering stream in Canada is that the funding agencies do fund systems engineering, and it is considered a viable area of graduate research and a very attractive area in industry."
MacGregor sums up, "I have had a very rewarding career. I would tell my young relative that there will be some interesting and rewarding positions in the future in certain areas of process automation, particularly those that build upon the use of big data. This area will only demand more and more engineers in the future."