So much to learn, so little time

Process control authority Bela Liptak brings in specialists from his cadre of co-authors to answer a reader's question. Find out which books and online courses they recommend for continued education.


I AM AN operations engineer at a small oil blending facility. The plant is 50 years old and most of the equipment is at least that old. I have slowly been upgrading, mostly using high efficiency motors and Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs). Now comes the hard part. I need to learn as much as I can on control processes from the ground up. My first attempt has been to take the analog pressure gauges out of the tank farm and use pressure transducers with digital readouts with a 4-20 mA output. I have a lot to learn in a short time. Could you kindly recommend books, online courses etc. Any assistance would be kindly appreciated.


MY FORMER controls professor, Dr. Carlos Smith, does excellent practical on-site courses for process engineers, new controls engineers, instrumentation technicians, etc., on process control. He is now currently Associate Dean of Academics at the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering. Dr. Smith offers three popular courses: Automatic Process Control I, Automatic Process Control II, and Chemical Engineering for non-Chemical Engineers. Each can run 3-5 days on site, and he will adjust the content and level of the course to suit the audience. He does an excellent job of boiling down controls theory to its most essential and practical parts and conveying it in terms anyone can understand and apply.

H has conducted these courses for Monsanto, Dow, Procter & Gamble, Weyerhaeuser, and many more. Contact Carlos Smith, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Academics, University of South Florida, Tampa, Fla.; 813/974-5859;

And if an on-site course is not an option, then I also recommend the following books:

  • The Instrument Engineers' Handbook Series, Bela Liptak, CRC Press
  • Principles and Practice of Automatic Process Control, A. Corripio and C. Smith
  • Feedback Controllers for the Process Industries, Wiley. Shinskey, McGraw Hill.

Rick Meeker, Jr., P.E., Process Control Solutions, Inc.

ISA's distance learning programs can be found online.

Dale Lee, Director, Convention, Education, and Certification Services, ISA

For those with a BS degree in an engineering field, Oklahoma State University offers a distance education Masters of Science in Control Systems Engineering. It is a 33-SCH (semester credit hour) (11 courses) graduate engineering program, requiring a 3.25 or better undergraduate GPA for admission, and is aimed at the practicing engineer who wants preparation for industrial control. Courses are interdisciplinary and taught by chemical, electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering professors. Visit for information.

R. Russell Rhinehart, Bartlett Chair and School Head, School of Chemical Engineering

Washington University in St. Louis has an excellent program for in Chemical Engineering particularly for people who want to work in the area of process control because it uses a Virtual Plant that consists of a series of industrial advanced control tools and high-fidelity dynamic simulations and ISA books that help prepare the individual for the CAP program.

Greg McMillan, EPM/AUS

I’m currently working on Instrumentation and Control course Level 1. This course is being developed in cooperation with cooperation Speck Industrial Controls, Inc. They are
located in Moorstown, N.J. An outline of this course can be found at under Training. This course is hands-on and provides a good level of reference materials.

Michael L. Berns, Alcan Packaging Cebal

I think British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has very good courses in the area mentioned by the reader. The courses range from Tradesman's tickets in Instrumentation to Bachelor Degrees in Controls Engineering. Of course I might be a bit biased, but the fact that BCIT has won the ISA student competitions repeated over the past five years is a good indicator. When I was actively running an engineering company in the ‘90s, I found all the BCIT grads that I hired to be consistently above average. Finally, the facilities are first class for a practical education in controls–it was one of the reasons I decided to come here to do my research work.

Eric Byres, PE, Research Manager, BCIT Internet Engineering Lab

I would suggest:

  • Join your local ISA chapter. You'll probably meet a lot of the guys who put the stuff in 50 years ago who can tell you all about it, as well as what new stuff might work well in it's place.
  • Run out and buy a copy of the Instrument Engineer's Handbook.
  • Contact Omega at and ask for a complete set of their catalogs. At the back of each section of the catalogs is a very well-written, short explanation of each type of measurement device. You don't want to design a plant with this, but it's a good start.
  • Pick up a copy of Fundamentals of Process Control Theory by Paul W. Murrill, Ph.D. ISA press ISBN: 0-87664-507-4.
  • And don’t forget Measurement and Control Basics by Thomas A. Hughes, ISA press.
  • In addition, the ISA has lots of good courses on these topics.

David Gardellin, Onyx Valve Co.

The Maritime Academy in Vallejo, Calif., offers CCST courses for instrument technicians every year in March. I usually teach one class. For information, call Professor Robert Hammaker at 707/654-1000; fee $ 150.

Stepahn Gaertner

Need an Expert Opinion?
Send your knotty control and automation questions to Béla Lipták at Lipták will either answer the questions himself or bring in specialists from his cadre of Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Fourth Edition co-authors. Questions and answers will be published online on Each month, Béla will pick the best question, and publish it, along with the answer in CONTROL. If your question is chosen, a prize will be awarded.

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