The best of times and the worst of times in process automation

July 15, 2015
It is a good time to be in the process industries. If you feel you’re getting dumped on, maybe all that’s required is a change of view—or a different table at the feast.
About the Author
Paul Studebaker is chief editor of Control. He earned a master's degree in metallurgical engineering and gathered 12 years experience in manufacturing before becoming an award-winning writer and editor for publications including Control and Plant Services.

Half our month of June was spent on the road, including Rockwell Automation TechEd and Honeywell User Group (HUG) Americas, learning about the bright future for process automation professionals armed with connected enterprises, Industrial Internets of Things (IIoT), cloud computing and big data analyses, as well as the cybersecurity and services you need to support the very profitable implementations your companies will soon be making to improve productivity, efficiency and safety.

One evening during HUG, we celebrated our new knowledge on the Riverwalk in San Antonio at an Italian restaurant recommended by the young woman behind the counter at our hotel. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, the latter with a few tables right out by the water under some trees. When we expressed our preference for one of those, the host was pleased to comply, but warned us, “Do you hear those birds? You’re welcome to that table but sometimes, the birds…”

We thought the birds sounded lovely, and the table was clean, so we three manly men scoffed at the risk, telling each other, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We sat and ordered drinks, and it began.

The first victim of 100% organic “rain” was our publisher, Keith, who had sat closest to the trunk of the tree and took a generous shot to the backside. He was less than happy, but we were undaunted. Our waiter arrived, and along with our food orders, we requested an extra napkin. He came back with two—one damp, one dry. How wise of him.

As we enjoyed an appetizer, a dollop winged the outside of my wine glass, and Keith took a hit to the shoulder. We felt a bit more concern and placed napkins over our drinks, just in case. Then, while we waited for our dinners, Keith and I both took second helpings, this time to our left arms. We became anxious. Was the frequency increasing?

By the time our main courses arrived, we were fully paranoid. The food was delicious, but our concern that our meals could be despoiled had us hunkered over, eager to get done before it might be too late.

As we finished our dinners, the birds completed their trifecta by copiously decorating the top of Jim’s head. We skipped dessert.


On our return to our offices and editorial duties, I was reminded of our adventure on the Riverwalk by the results and some of the respondents’ comments to our annual Salary Survey.

Now that we’ve had the good sense to take a closer look at annual salaries greater than $100,000, it’s more clear than ever that many process automation professionals are well-compensated and earn bonuses and fringe benefits that, I assure you, could inspire jealousy in your average magazine editor. Still, the vast majority of you put challenging work and job satisfaction at the top of your reasons for being who you are and doing what you do.

Yet, there’s a sense that many of you are held back—by budgets, by short-sighted management, by uninspired coworkers—from being able to do the projects and make the changes that can make a huge difference to your plants’ productivity and company profits.

In June, we saw thousands of you attend inspiring sessions detailing many ways to use more data, better controls and effective communications to increase utilization, reduce downtime, improve quality, make plants safer and cut costs. The presenters were proud of their accomplishments and eager to share how they determined their needs, engineered the solutions and overcame obstacles to implementation.

Clearly, if your plant isn’t running as well as you’d like, there’s a way to improve it, and it probably involves process control. Find your pain points and define your problem. Then sit down, put it on your plate and dive in. Bon appétit!

But if you can’t enjoy your work and make improvements because all you can think about is what’s going to rain down on you next, it might pay to move to another table.