My Problem with the Maytag Repairman

Have any of you out there in ProcessAutomationLand caught the latest commercial for Maytag appliances? It's getting a fair amount of airtime on the cable channels. It's the one where the plant engineers are looking at the two-headed stuffed animals coming off the assembly line and wondering what's wrong. One says to the other something to the effect that he's on the problem. Then the camera swings to the Maytag repairman who has the covers off what is, we assume, the enclosure for the machine controls, nodding knowingly at the works and presumably fixing them. The unspoken punch line, of course, is that the Maytag repairman is out fixing other things because Maytag appliances are so good that he never has enough work to do fixing them. Okay. I'll buy that. My Maytag dishwasher hasn't let me down in ten years. But the commercial bugs me anyway. The unspoken implication is that automation technology is so simple"”or unimportant"”that anybody with even remotely related mechanical skills can fix it. It sort of makes me feel like the Geico caveman. Darn it. Process automation isn't so easy a caveman"”or a washing machine repairman"”can cope with it. And I don't think automation pros ought to let people think that it is. All of which is a backwards way of getting at a theme I see popping up in the print pages of Control and in keynote speeches at user groups more and more: That automation professionals need to demand more respect; that being the Rodney Dangerfields of manufacturing isn't good for their long-term professional health or that of the process industries.  (Truth in Blogging Alert: My job at the magazine is to be responsible for things such as spelling, punctuation, author schedules and writing the occasional non-technical feature. All I know about process automation is what my betters in the field tell me. Damn it, Jim. I'm an English major, not a process engineer!) That fact makes me a bit reluctant to pontificate about professional automation matters, about which in some respects I know less than the Maytag repairman. On the other hand, I can follow a logical argument when it's presented to me. I've also spent part of the afternoon prepping Walt's September editorial for print. It deals with this same issue, and, as usual, he's pretty persuasive. Nobody's going to tell the automation story to the folks who need to hear it if we don't. Maybe it's time for all of us to pool our pennies and create an ad campaign. An automation engineer and the Geico caveman can appear together pointing out that cavemen aren't stupid and that it takes more than a washer repairman to fix the controls in the factory. Just sayin'.
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  • <p>Way back in 2005 my Mojo column in Control Design magazine (Control's sister publication)addressed this issue, but I had a more optimistic take.</p> <p>See below for the first paragraph of the article, and see the link for the rest of it:</p> <p>DON'T LOOK NOW, but people just like you are the new stars of prime time TV and the big screen. That’s right, engineers, scientists, and technicians are dominating the airwaves as the main characters in a host of highly rated dramas and big-screen epics. Not only are you a star, but these shows center around the use of logic to solve vexing technical problems. Sounds like your job, right?</p> <p><a href="http://www.controldesign.com/articles/2005/234.html">http://www.controldesign.com/articles/2005/234.html</a></p>

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