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

Chips Are Up, Part 2

Find Out How More Powerful CPUs Have Improved Process Controllers

02/07/2012

Industrial Computers, Part 2. Data Processing Escapes the Enclosure

Whether It Happens on a Cloud-Based Service, Virtualized Server or Plain Old Wireless, Internet or Ethernet, It's Clear That Industrial Computing for Process Control Has Moved Beyond Its Old Laptops and Desktops. So How Can You Protect Such Far-Flung Data Processing?

01/10/2012

Protecting the Network, Enclosing the Cloud

How Can You Protect an Industrial Network or the Cloud from Any Harm?

01/10/2012

Shared Documents Aid Valve Repairs

Using New File-Sharing and Procedural Tools in Complex Projects Can Save You Time and Headaches

01/10/2012

Fresh Starts on Greener Grass

We Can Help You Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions. Find Out How

12/30/2011

Sample Conditioning Systems Need Love Too

Process Users and Integrators Must Carefully Design and Match SCSs With Application Requirements and Specifications, Complete Application Data Sheets and Deploy Climate-Controlled Shelters

12/07/2011

Simplicity = Freedom

Reducing Wiring Doesn't Just Save Labor, Time and Expenses

12/07/2011

Blending Controls Sweetens Soda Pop

Schweppes Australia Consolidates Process and Logic Controls in Its Syrup Room With a New Automation and Controls System

12/06/2011

Migrating to I/A Series Connects Users to the Enterprise

Careful Planning Needed to Bring Aging Control System Infrastructure into the Future

11/20/2011

Chips Are Up

The Chasm Between the Plant Floor and the Data Processing Center Remains Huge, Wide and Deep

11/15/2011

First Aid for Process Security

Viruses and Cyber Attacks ARE Looming. Help From Governments and Standards Is Lacking. Some Engineers and Managers Are Fighting Back to Protect Their Applications and Companies. Here's How They Do It

10/07/2011

Sunny Side Security

It's Just a Matter of Adding New Security Tweaks as Needed, Much Like an Immune System That Evolves to Counter Biological Viruses and Threats

10/07/2011

Epic Expectations

Do We Really Need to Believe We're Each on Some Heroic Journey? Don't Kid Yourself. We All Need It

09/12/2011

Smarter Searching

Even in These Web 2.0-, Facebook-Enabled Days, It Can Still Be Devilishly Difficult to Seek and Find Specific Answers on the Internet

09/01/2011

Shared Pains in the Neck

Most Professions and Industries Are Facing the Same Brain Drains, Struggles With IT, Going Green Questions and How to Use Social Media

08/15/2011

Bags, Batch Software and Biotech

Find Out How Shire Biopharmaceuticals Accelarated Their Construction Plans for Their Newest Facility to Accomdate the Making of Six Needed Drugs

07/14/2011

Automation Process Knowledge Management

Tribal Knowledge - New Tools Are Putting Process Know-How into Online Pools, Letting Newbies Access More Useful Knowledge, and Even Awakening Some On-the-Job Training Efforts

07/11/2011

Don't Forget Object Lessons

Can You Become a Prisoner of Your Lego-like Software Modules?

06/13/2011

Serious Sustainability

There's a Lot More to Truly Going Green Than Efficiency. Here's How Some Experienced End Users and Their Applications Are Mastering Process Sustainability

06/06/2011

Online Articles: Diving Deep Below the Fold

Many Web Surfers Often Flash Across Stes and Don't Delve Deeply into Any One of Them. This Can Be a Mistake. Come Tour ControlGlobal.com With Me

04/28/2011