Process Automation Generations Talk to Each Other

A Dialog Across the Generations About Plant Operations and Each Generation's Different Ways of Looking at Problems

By Danaca Jordan, Greg McMillan, Soundar Ramchandran, Hunter Vegas

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* General comment by Danaca: Other communication types not mentioned that I use frequently:

Online Forums – There are several DCS and instrumentation user forums, as well as online groups on networking sites that discuss common installations and troubleshooting. I use them to determine if someone else has seen the same problem that I have while remaining relatively anonymous.

Peer-Reviewed Wikis – Wikis are used as a starting point for most research and new projects. They provide solid overviews and links to standards, conference papers and journals for verification and more detail.

Social Media Feeds – I use these less frequently, but if managed correctly, they are an effective way to summarize and lead users to interesting or new developments. ChEnected, the online community for AIChE, provides a consistent example of timely, user-driven content.

** General comment by Hunter: I personally don't spend much time on the Web, so blogs, Q/A posts and recorded seminars are not something I tend to check out. I much prefer written material that I can read and digest. I tend to like live presentations where I can ask questions and better understand the material.

***General comment by Soundar: I find reading on a computer screen distracting, so any kind of learning for me has to be from something I can hold and write on.

Relative Effectiveness of Visuals

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10 where a 10 denotes "most effective."

* General comment by Danaca: Other visuals not mentioned that are very effective (10 rating) are animations and YouTube or other online demonstrations.

** General comment by Hunter: To be honest, I struggled with this one. I need whatever visual effect makes sense. For understanding the process, then a PID and/or PFD is what I need. If I am designing software, then I typically use a combination of flow charts, written logic notes and a tag list. If I am wiring something, then I want to loop sheet. My ratings numbers are a measure of how useful I generally find these items.

Relative Effectiveness of Levels of Information

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10 where a 10 denotes "most effective."


The most effective way to share knowledge about the implementation of process control is networking by virtual communities, such as forums for specific software and instrument user groups, archives of shared code and open-edit wikis. Technical societies should correspondingly foster virtual committees for standards and advancing technology that is not supplier-specific.

Mentoring is best done by assigning experienced engineers to work with new engineers for implementing new systems and maintaining and improving existing installations. An open-door culture should be created where new engineers are encouraged to seek advice on a casual basis and good listening practices are fostered. One-on-one conversation is the most complete and beneficial type of communication to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts. All other types can escalate problems.

The ISA Mentor program found that questions and answers of general interest can be effectively conducted by email and shared by posts. Words cannot convey the enthusiasm and immediate bonds of mutual interest and respect seen in the kick-off meeting at ISA Automation Week. Conversations between protégés have continued to show the potential benefit of new automation engineers sharing and learning on a one-on-one basis. Finally, the co-authoring of articles, papers and presentations helped focus achievements, gain recognition and provided a greatly needed new user perspective.

Books, papers and articles are still the most effective way to transfer general knowledge. Print versions need to be available for the older generations who do not want to read on a computer screen and want the ability to creatively browse without knowing exactly what to look for. Web versions are increasingly important to enable longer versions, addendums, updates and internal/external searches.

Since presentations now have a life on the Web beyond the session, we should move beyond the concept of the content on slides serving just as trigger. Presentations and publications should have a synergistic relationship using layers to provide a progression of knowledge. The presentation provides the entry to more extensive knowledge via a publication. The layering of content in presentations and publications should be based on the ratings of visuals and levels of information for the audience. Successive pages or slides or links could give access to deeper layers. The layers can be added to Web versions as knowledge is gained and as time permits. For presentations, content must be brief with a minimum font size and a maximum word limit on each slide. Probably only the first few layers would be used in a presentation except when examples are given of what is available on the web version.

Successive layers with more information would be relegated to publications tied to the presentation. Here are the layers.

  1. Memorable Picture, Graphics or Cartoon to capture attention and open the mind.
  2. Overview to provide a high-level view.
  3. What, When, Why and Where to give value and applicability.
  4. Concept to capture the essence and give the basis for verification via scientific method.
  5. Insight to offer deeper knowledge that can expand applicability and spawn discovery.
  6. Simplified P&IDs and Logic Diagrams to provide a fuller understanding.
  7. Background to provide a perspective that can lead to additional ideas.
  8. Watch-outs and Exceptions to keep the user out of trouble.
  9. Rules of Thumb to provide guidance and to start the move from generalities to specifics.
  10. Checklists to make sure all the bases are covered.
  11. Details that govern the proper use.
  12. Step-by-Step Procedures to provide the literal instruction on what to do.
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