Follow in Batch’s Footsteps

Aug. 31, 2007
Can batch standards, methods and concepts break through their technological limits to the world of ideas?

By Jim Montague, executive editor

Good ideas tend to spread. When people in general and engineers in particular find a truly useful tool, they usually put it to immediate use. Later, they step back to appreciate the results of their newly more efficient labor, and say, “Man, that was great! What else can I do with this thing?”

Such is the case with the ISA 88 batch standard. After its initial development and deployment in the specialty chemical, food and beverage, and a few other founding applications, its developers and their colleagues in other fields began to apply its concepts and methods in other applications, such as pharmaceuticals, packaging and even some continuous processes. Likewise, developers also are working to link ISA 88 and ISA 95 more closely, so they can jointly help applications reach up to their enterprise and administrative levels more easily.

In fact, in this issue’s “Batch Rules” cover story, one system integrator even reports that he’s used ISA 88 methods to program and configure the controls at a natural gas co-generation power plant in California. He says this usually continuous process was able to benefit from ISA 88 by simply defining the batch’s endpoint as whenever the operators say to stop the process. This may be an entirely open-ended batch, but the integrator explains that it’s technically a batch nonetheless.

Consequently, I began to wonder what else can ISA 88 do? Not just where else might it useful, but are there any applications where it wouldn’t be useful? Can batch standards, methods and concepts break through their technological limits to the world of ideas? Can batch help engineers improve their careers, lives and communities as well as their plant-floor applications?

Crazy, right? I thought so, too, but then I thought again about the common language that ISA 88 gives its users, the logical steps and prioritization it imposes on its recipes and applications, and its ability to extend its uniformity and order beyond its initial industries.

Batch’s adaptability reminds me of the time I found out that process control and automation’s sense-decide-act cornerstone could be thought of as an editorial reporting exercise of going out, gathering facts, picking out the most useful nuggets and distributing them to as wide an audience as possible. It’s a stretch, but I think batch methods can be used anywhere if we just expand our perspective slightly.    

To me, common language also means the ability to communicate and write clearly. For instance, for job seekers this means cover letters, resumes and interviews in the search for potential employers. However, batch’s adaptability also directs its users to find out where skills are most useful, and apply them in places that might not have been obvious before. Of course, these lessons are equally useful for managers seeking employees or for directing searches for the most useful types of professional development programs or continuing education.   

Unfortunately, when I and friends have lost jobs in past years, our first reaction after anger and resentment was to find exactly the same job somewhere else, with the same tasks, title and salary as before—almost as if we were denying that the layoff or firing had ever happened. In fact, many of us got stuck by pride and spite into only accepting a position equivalent to what we had before. Sadly, this can severely limit job searches to far fewer positions than a person’s skills might be appropriate for. New and better opportunities open up when applicants let go of demanding the same job, and see all the places where their experience and abilities might be most useful, instead of settling for the same old. 

In the animal world, for example, species limited to one or a few sources of nourishment, such as koalas that eat only eucalyptus leaves or pandas that only consume bamboo shoots, are in mortal danger when that food source becomes scarce. However, less discriminating creatures, such as coyotes, goats and executive editors, are less vulnerable because if one menu item disappears, they can just move on to what else is available. 

In the same way, while batch standards might only be applicable to process applications, and batch methods can be used in a wider circle of settings, batch thinking may be able to carry users even further.