Voices: McMillan & Weiner

University labs round out theoretical education with practical process control experience

Greg McMillan and Stan Weiner speak with Dr. Kelvin Erickson of Missouri University of Science and Technology, regarding his approach to preparing students for the future of process control.

By Greg McMillan & Stan Weiner
Jan 18, 2017

*Greg*: The future of the automation profession depends upon replenishing and revitalizing the expertise in process control. Nearly all of my protégés have retired without an opportunity to mentor and develop their sequels. There was a dearth of hiring automation professionals for 30 years. While there has been a recent increase, many if not most of these engineers new to the profession are not going to work for the plants or associated engineering departments of the process industry manufacturers. They are instead being hired by service providers, either in the application departments of system suppliers or their business partners, or by independent engineering firms. The challenge is how these new engineers go from what they learned in universities to what they have to do on the job. Since they are not starting out gaining extensive plant experience by being stationed at a plant and/or spending significant time checking out, commissioning and starting up the systems throughout their career like Stan and I did, they are challenged to learn what is really going on in the field. Further complicating matters is that university degrees in process automation are rare and the courses offered in control are oriented toward frequency response, emphasizing Laplace and Z transforms and Bode and Nyquist plots. While this knowledge is useful for advanced degrees and a deeper understanding for someone in research and development, the approach has little practical use for the automation engineer in the process industry. The courses in control theory largely reflect an original intent to educate potential aerospace engineers in the 1970s.

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