Voices: Montague

Process Automation In Third World Countries Is Not as Underdeveloped as We Like to 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

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

Intrinsic Safety Aids Cost-Effective Coal Mining

Daw Mill Colliery Implements Intrinsically Safe (IS) PLCs and IS Ethernet and Supporting Components to Fuel U.K. Power Utilities

06/14/2013

Controls and Process Applications Can Be Restored

Restoration Possible: Many Distributed Control Systems (DCSs) Are Rapidly Aging and Risk Breaking Down. Luckily, There Are Many New Tools and Innovative Methods for Supporting and Breathing New Life Into Controls and Process Applications

06/11/2013

Creative Computing for Control

PC-Based Control Is Taking Over in a Variety of New and Upcoming Process Industry Applications. Here Are Some of the Most Innovative Solutions

05/16/2013

Process Automation Industry: When an Apology Is Just Not Good Enough

We Can't See Most Tragedies Coming, but There Must Be Dozens of People Who Could Have Seen the West Fertilizer Disaster Coming

05/10/2013

Motors and Drives Grow Up and Graduate

Motors and Drives Have Been Moving Up to Variable-Speed Control for Better Accuracy, but Now They're Also Increasing Power Density and Efficiency and Even Coordinating More Closely With PLCs and Intelligent Systems

05/08/2013

The Process Automation Assisted by Audio

Our Articles Get Accompanying Audio and Video Recordings. Check Them Out

04/30/2013

Flow Everywhere

Executive Editor Jim Montague Talks About Unusual Flow Applications. Flow Configuration and Conditioning Are Not Only Necessary in Machines, but Also in the Human Body

04/16/2013

Flow Charts New Waters

Flowmeters, Controllers and Their Supporting Components and Software Are Adding New Functions That Are Allowing Them to Take On Some New and Unusual Tasks and Applications

04/08/2013

Make the Most of Your Generation Gaps

From Traditionalists to Millennials: Making Sense of Today's Multi-Generational Workforce

03/28/2013

DTE Energy Tackles Unruly Alarms

Rationalization Process Restores Meaning--One Alarm at a Time

03/28/2013

Moving Your Historian to the Cloud — Carefully

Process Manufacturers Already Are Leveraging Cloud Technologies for Process Control-Related Applications

03/27/2013

CEO Hogan Bullish on ABB Outlook

ABB Leadership Expresses Optimism at Opening of ABB Automation & Power World 2013

03/26/2013

Baldor Solution Drives Cooling Tower Performance

In with Efficiency and Reliability; Out with Noise and Troublesome Gearboxes

03/26/2013

Automation Professionals Avoid Talking About Training

Lets Talk About Training. It Is Essential to Improving Operator Performance or the Appropriate Actions of Anyone in a Critical Situation

03/15/2013

Process Automation Operator Performance Gets Better

Prioritized Data, Simpler Displays, Human-Factors-Designed Equipment, Fatigue-Reduction Efforts, Alarm Planning and Other Tools Can All Improve Situational Awareness and Operator Performance. So How Much Do You Need of Each?

03/06/2013

Group Network Health

Industrial Network Components Merit the Same Awareness and Maintenance as the Controls Whose Data They Convey

02/11/2013

PLCs Taking Some Excellent Adventures

Engineers Are Deploying More Capable Programmable Logic Controllers in Some New and Unusual Applications. Here's How They're Doing It

01/14/2013

Just Another Variable in the Process Automation Industry

Jim Montague Recaps Automation Tools Talked About During Automation Fair 2012. These Tools Help Industry Professionals Save Power and Compete Sustainably

01/10/2013

User Groups Useful Way Beyond Scheduled Events

Here At Control We Report Live While The Conferences Happen, but You can Find Information about the Event and Beyond Even After the Conferences Are Long Gone

01/09/2013

Power Supplies Take Sophisticated Paths

Using Many of the Same Data Processing Tools and Software as Process Controllers, Power Supplies Are Diversifying Their Capabilities and Serving in Many New and Different Applications

12/10/2012