More About Tools...

What divides a practice, a profession from people using tools to perform actions? It is, at least according to me, whether there is any intrinsic knowledge needed to properly use the toolsets, or whether anyone from any number of disciplines can do it well, just by using the tools. We are at a watershed time in process automation. Previously, the tools were so hard to use that much of the profession's practice was taken up in learning to use and using them to control plant processes. So lots of the intrinsic knowledge needed was masked by the fact that you also needed to have lots of tool use knowledge. Now the tools are getting easier, and more companies are buying them. Matrikon just reported record sales, when the process automation industry has been more or less stagnant for years. But now the intrinsic knowledge part comes in. It isn't enough to know how to program an HMI. It isn't enough to know how to design a simulator, or even to use it. Now, the value add for the profession of process automation is knowing how and why the process works the way it does, and how to deal with upsets when it goes awry. It's like the old chestnut of the plumber who handed the old lady a bill for a hundred bucks after simply tapping on her water heater with a big pocking wrench. When the old lady complained, he replied, "Okay, lady, let me break it down for you. I charged you $1 to hit the pipe with the wrench. I charged you $99 for knowing where to hit the pipe." We laugh, but there is a real truth in that joke. It is up to us all to see that that value add is protected and valued by our employers. Comments? --Walt Boyes

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