The education of future automation engineers is lacking mentors

Today There Are Less Experienced People and Less Time to Provide One-on-One Guidance on the Job

By Greg McMillan, Stan Weiner

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Stan: The days of accomplishment BY holing up in a cubicle to the exclusion of others are long gone. The depth and spectrum of skills needed are too great for an individual to work alone, plus successful implementation requires mutual understandings between design, operations and maintenance. Do what extent do you couple hands-on experience with communication skills?

Atanas: The students start using the lab in the third quarter of their junior year. The students run five projects working with faculty to achieve objectives that many times include a design of experiments (DOE). The students write multiple project reports and give a formal presentation on project results in each quarter. A lot of emphasis is given on improving written and oral communication. We give first-hand experience in today's workplace where almost everything is a team effort.

Greg: What do students get in terms of a practical process control education?

Ron: The course in advanced process control uses a DCS configuration and instrumentation system design done by the students. A development system is used for modeling and design. Two-person teams work together simultaneously to transfer the results to a production system.

Stan: What kind of support has enabled you to take this approach?

Atanas: We have recently received Dean's funding to purchase new servers. Emerson has donated DeltaV DCS software licensing, and Cornerstone Controls has given us significant discounts on hardware. Endress-Hauser has donated a large number of instruments and given significant discounts as well on process instrumentation, such as Coriolis mass flow meters. We have received instrumentation donations from Eli Lilly and Company as well. Marathon Petroleum Corporation provided the funds for the development and simulation DeltaV system.

Greg: How would you sum up your program?

Ron: We are preparing our students to be able to contribute immediately upon graduation by having a practical engineering focus in many of our courses, including process control. We also provide lots of courses and research experiences for those destined for graduate school. We provide a hands-on experience with real systems and automation to solve real application problems.

Greg: To further show the practical importance of giving students hands-on experience with modern industrial instrumentation and the latest distributed control systems, consider the success story of Bob Heider's Digital Process Control Laboratory at Washington University in Saint Louis. His class more than doubled in size, and several graduates have gone on to have important careers in automation. When I taught the course there on modeling and control for chemical engineering students, I used a virtual plant to provide an experimental basis for improving column and pH control systems. The students loved the labs more than the lectures. Even if their destination was in process engineering, I helped them appreciate the automation system as the means of seeing and affecting the process. The virtual plant with simulations of complex unit operations running faster than real time gave them the opportunity to rapidly make and break control systems. I think both actual and virtual automation systems optimize learning. Students benefit from working with the hardware and realizing the flexibility of the software.

Stan: If you or your kin are deciding what degree might best offer the most extensive job opportunities see the "Top Ten Reasons to Become a Chemical Engineer."

"Top Ten Reasons to Become a Chemical Engineer"

(10) No chemical imbalances.
(9) Everything is in equilibrium.
(8) Energy is conserved.
(7) Mass is conserved.
(6) Optimization of your distillery.
(5) Even power plants require chemical engineering.
(4) Oil and gas are chemicals.
(3) Plants are no longer wired for electrical engineers.
(2) Simulation rules!
(1) "Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible."



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