Inertia, initiative key to the future of process control

'Control’s 2017 editorial calendar tells me I’m going to be covering all kinds of process density, do-it-yourself automation, and whether sensors and field instruments can skip PLCs and DCSs on their way to the cloud,' says Jim Montague

By Jim Montague

I don’t know much physics, but I do know that Newton’s First Law says, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” If that’s true, then moving from one state to the other takes plenty of effort. For instance, pizza that’s close at hand always appears more mouth-watering than if it’s out of reach and I have to get up off the couch to eat it. Just a little synergy between sins. 

Anyway, I’m pretty sure this rule and the effort it demands is true for many other situations, and may be the reason why I and most of my fellow humans seem to dislike change so intensely—even to the point where we’ll accept the threat of a more wrenching change later, so long as we don’t have to deal with even a minor, unwelcome change right now. 

And, big surprise, this situation gets worse as we get older because it takes more effort to handle changes when they show up. Pardon me, while I make some old-man noises, and go yell at the kids to get off my lawn. Little so-and-so’s with their joints that aren’t stiffened by age, too many carbohydrates and too much sitting!   

Download our Beginner's Guide to Differential Pressure Level Transmitters

It’s supposed to be money that makes the world go round, but ironically, it’s inertia in the form of laziness that’s the true motivating factor. Money just buys the La-Z-Boy and house to put it in. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t need and deserve shelter and some rest, but I am saying don’t stay inert for too long because the cost goes up quickly. After years of writing about process application startups, overcoming stiction and partial stroke valve tests, I catch myself thinking about them when I try to shake off my personal cobwebs and rust.

Sadly, inertia doesn’t just apply to planets and our physiology. As we can see, our psychology is soaked through with it, too. I don’t want to, and you can’t make me! I’ll shoot myself in the foot if I can be sure to kill that buzzing mosquito. Chalk it up to mental static friction.

Can Raspberry Pi and Arduino do process control? We’ll find out.

So what’s the solution? This is a tough one because there really is no immediate remedy. Personal conflicts from toilet training to international relations are often insoluble in the short term. Frankly, I’ve often been impressed with the many process engineers I’ve covered, and the fact that their efforts to draft standards for process safety, industrial networking, wireless and cybersecurity weren’t more contentious than so many other arguments I’ve covered, such as the long, time- and resource-wasting struggles over U.S. healthcare.

Though it won’t work right away, if at all, the only possible solution is patience and faith, and not the organized, tacked-on, everything-is-OK-when-it’s-obviously-not kind. For example, Control’s 2017 editorial calendar tells me I’m going to be covering all kinds of process density, do-it-yourself automation, and whether sensors and field instruments can skip PLCs and DCSs on their way to the cloud. Unfortunately, I have no idea how I’m going to research these topics or if I’ll find material I can turn into a real story. As usual, I’m relying on the people I run across to provide some useful answers to their community. This procedure is illogical and uncertain, but it’s never failed before, and so I think my faith is well placed. Can Raspberry Pi and Arduino do process control? We’ll find out.

Beyond those editorial challenges, like many people in their mid-50s, my kids are almost all grown up and gone, my parents are getting uncomfortably close to dying, and my spouse is about to give me the heave ho, so I’m not even sure where I’ll be living in a few weeks. Am I worried? A little, but I’ve always been pretty flexible and adaptable. Once again, I think my belief in the future is justified.

I’m not sure where my faith comes from. I do know that a one- or two-mile walk or a hot shower on a cold morning make me optimistic. I always find good people to interview, tasks and chores to do, and tasty pizza or crispy bacon. I enjoy the sun coming up and the hum of the world and people outside, and I want to get out in it and stay in motion.