Leeway on the learning curve

Please cut others and yourself some slack as you learn about IIoT and other concepts

By Jim Montague

While I agree there's nothing new under the sun, I've also mentioned before that what's really new is just a deeper understanding of things with which we thought were completely familiar. For instance, I thought I knew all about Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" book and movie about the Mercury astronauts, including the older lady tending the dilapidated bar at the beginning of the story, and casually putting newly arrived test pilots in their place. I knew all the quips, but what I didn't know was that character, Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes, is right up there with Amelia Earhardt and Bessie Coleman as one of the most important female aviators of the 20th century. No kidding.

As usual, I wised up after running across a late-night showing of the "The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club" documentary on PBS that chronicles her colorful and amazing life, and features interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, R.A. "Bob" Hoover and Gen. Chuck Yeager, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. You can check out the trailer at here or order it from Amazon.

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I only bring up this revelation about Barnes now because I'm learning not to take as much at face value or assume I know as much as I think I do—even if it's about topics I thought that I'd covered thoroughly.

For example, I've spent the past few months researching and reporting on many of Control's current and upcoming topics for 2018, including enterprise integration, "knowledge on demand," optimization with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and several others. While they all seemed like distinct subjects at first, what's become apparent as I conducted interviews is that they're overlapping and clumping together worse than any bunch of topics I've handled before. It's almost as if some magnetic attraction—I blame IIoT—is driving them together, and making it impossible to parse or coax them into separate subjects.

Just as I'd want someone coming from the outside to get educated about my environment before coming in and working there, it would no doubt be helpful if I did the same before blundering into new areas.

Of course, IIoT and its associated Ethernet networking, onboard microprocessors and software—what I prefer to call "just more Internet"—is obviously at the root of a lot of this. There just don't seem to be any topics in process control and automation that aren't affected by the ongoing evolution toward digitalization.

Likewise, I recently finished judging several dozen stories appearing in a bunch of unrelated magazines for the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) and Neal Awards editorial contests, and most of those industries are struggling with IIoT in much the same way. It was especially amusing to learn that the readers of Chief Information Officer (CIO) magazine, who are very much on the well-informed IT side, are often tearing their hair out over many of the same IIoT-related issues as their OT counterparts.

Consequently, with all this coverage, awareness, context and insight about IIoT, I thought that I knew what was going on. Everyone must be jumping into the IIoT pool, right? Wrong again.

When I went to research this issue's "Safety for screens" feature article on process automation, HMIs and safety, I learned from several system integrators that they and their clients remain extremely reluctant about bringing networking connections into intrinsically safe (IS) or other hazardous areas. In fact, instead of allowing any IIoT, added network links or even sealed and IS-certified handhelds into these environments, they'd prefer to simplify applications, and design components out of IS settings whenever possible.

Once again, I've been reminded that trends observed in multiple stories may not apply to the next one. Just because IIoT is showing up everywhere, doesn't mean it's advisable or safe to apply it anywhere. One size definitely doesn't fit all, and each setting must be evaluated before new concepts, solutions, behaviors and cultures are applied. And, just as I'd want someone coming from the outside to get educated about my environment before coming in and working there, it would no doubt help if I did the same before blundering into new areas. A little patience, and giving each other a chance to learn each other's lingo and outlook, could be helpful in many applications.

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