Voices: Montague

Don't Look Back, Developing Economies May Already Be Ahead On Process Automation

It Would Be Best to Discard Many Old Assumptions -- or at Least Take Them With a Big Grain of Salt -- and Go Check Out the World as It Really Is

By Jim Montague

When I started researching this issue's "Far Out in the Field" cover story on supporting process automation in developing economies and remote areas, I thought there was a fairly clear division between developed areas where equipment, technical support, integration services and educated staff are all readily available, and less developed regions where supply lines are stretched, expertise isn't around the corner and trained personnel are scarce. Basically, I thought it would be North America, Europe and the rest of the developed world versus everywhere else, or what used to be called the Third World.

Pretty much every phone call, inquiry and interview after that reminded me how full of baloney I and my assumptions were. Many regions that I assumed were underdeveloped were actually very developed in many ways, and some places that I thought were developed were actually in need of a lot of development, support and education.

One of my first wake-up calls was when our friends at Honeywell Process Solutions reminded me that they've been manufacturing process controls and other devices in South America for more than 50 years, including avionics and other advanced components. Likewise, the remote copper mines in Chile and the offshore and onshore oil rigs in Gabon have both been operating for decades, and use some of the world's most advanced process control equipment. So, even though most of the world's greenfield process control projects reportedly occur in these developing regions, there appear to be many well-established, legacy applications that are just as much in need of renovation and technical upgrades as their counterparts in North America and Europe.

Conversely, the recent boom in fracking for natural gas and oil in U.S. shale deposits is creating conditions in some states that are very similar to what we might expect to find in other undeveloped territories. For example, drilling sites and production wells in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other states are multiplying so quickly that there's not enough infrastructure to transport the raw material to refiners via the usual U.S. pipeline networks. So  trucks and railroads have been taking over a lot of the logistics for moving oil from the Bakken, Marcellus and other shale regions.

Likewise, there's not enough manpower and engineering expertise to handle North Dakota's oil boom, so workers have been coming in from other parts of the country to help. However, this rapid influx of new people into a rural area is stressing limited local housing, law-enforcement and other municipal resources, and many of the incoming migrant workers are often being forced to live in temporary camps. A good account of North Dakota's oil-related growing pains is described in "The New Oil Landscape" by Edwin Dobb in the March 2013 issue of National Geographic, which is accessible at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/bakken-shale-oil/dobb-text.

Sounds just like conditions in a remote, overseas, Third-World location, doesn't it? However, this time it's right on our doorstep. My point is that, just as each process control application has its own unique characteristics, quirks and requirements, each geographic location and community has its own needs, advantages and potential. And, just as the trick is to investigate and give each process application what it needs, the same can be done wherever it happens to be located.

I think it would be best to discard many old assumptions—or at least take them with a big grain of salt—and go check out the world as it really is. If you can't afford airplane tickets, there are lots of video, social media and other online sources of first-hand information about supposedly developing economies, which are actually a lot more complicated than the convenient, misleading labels placed on them. Happy travels!

More from this voice

Title

Old-Time Motors Provide Reminders of Reality

The Evolution of Process Controls from Pneumatics to Relays to PLCs to Microprocessors Is Crucial to the Modern World, but the Tools Also Have Made Life Easy to the Point That We Forget and Don't Appreciate Their Gifts

11/06/2013

Supplier Alliance Secures Big Data for Users

More Connections May Mean More Vulnerabilities, but Awareness, "Security as a Habit" and Helpful Partners Are the Best Defense

11/11/2013

Pipeline Integrator Unifies Control, Safety, Fire & Gas

Sirio Sistemi Elettronici Tackles Control and Safety Systems with Rockwell Automation Technology

11/11/2013

PlantPAx Tools Simplify Oil Production

Perenco Overhauls its Gabon Oilfields with PlantPAx Systems

11/12/2013

Bringing the Cloud Down to Earth

Rockwell Automation Uses the Cloud and Virtualization to Turn Big Data into Profitable Decisions

11/13/2013

Rockwell Automation Showcases Oil & Gas Capabilities

Oil and Gas Booth Sets Visitors on Process Control Pathways

11/14/2013

Chemical Makers Taking Steps to Corral Big Data

Specialty Chemicals Experts Use Best Practices to Secure Opportunities

11/15/2013

Let the DCS Fit the Process

Distributed Control Systems (DCSs) Are Gaining New Capabilities, Such as Integrating with Safety Systems, to Match the Unique Needs of Their Process Applications

12/12/2013

Power Supplies Get In On The Reliability Act

The Demand for Increased Reliability and Global Application for Process Control Is Driving Evolution of Power Supply Design

12/19/2013

Power Distribution: Bring Steady, Smart Power

Intelligent Computing and Software are Revolutionizing All Aspects of Power Generation, Distribution and Local Consumption. Here's How Process Control Users Are Gaining, Too

12/19/2013

Combining Pipeline Control and Safety

Integrated Control and Safety System for Crude Oil Transfer Pipeline

12/20/2013

VPN System Harnesses Cow Power

Remote Access Lets OEM Monitor, Control and Troubleshoot Solid-Waste Digester Systems on Small Farms

01/12/2014

Operator Performance: Check Your Hose

We Often Pay More Attention to and Take Better Care of Our Workplace Facilities, Processes and Products Than We Do Our Own Health

01/16/2014

Fieldbuses Resource Update

Learn More About Primary Fieldbuses Used in Process Control Applications

02/18/2014

Fieldbuses Uplift All Processes

Low-Power, Twisted-Pair Fieldbuses Are Still Replacing Old Point-to-Point Wiring, Delivering Better Data and Using Their Ethernet and Wireless Versions to Support New and Revamped Process Applications Worldwide

02/18/2014

FCC Allows Unlicensed "Level Probing Radar" in Open Air

The Rules Now Require Measuring Emissions in the Main Beam of the LPR Antenna

02/19/2014

Field Level Instruments Reaches New Heights

Ever-Improving Instruments and Relaxed Regulations Are Allowing Workhorse Technologies to Excel in Dynamic, Sticky, Multiphase and Politically Sensitive Applications

02/19/2014

Fieldbus Protocols Support All Processes

Flock of Fieldbuses - The Remaining Fieldbus Protocols May Not Be Getting Glamorous, Hollywood-Style Buzz Anymore, but They're Still Going Strong

02/20/2014

Perfect Fit: Operator Performance

Enhancing Operator Performance Means Tailoring the Right Combination of Situation-Aware Displays, Rationalized Alarms, Ergonomic Consoles and Field-Capable Interfaces. Here's How Users Maintain Operator Effectiveness

03/14/2014

Industrial Valves Get Better Bells and Whistles

Process Control Valves Are Adding New, Sophisticated and Intelligent Electronics, Networking and Other Innovations. Here's How Users Are Applying Them for Maximum Benefit

03/14/2014