January/February 2011

your letters/Readers Respond

Chinese competitiveness, avoiding degeneration

I read with interest the "The China Syndrome" article in InTech's September/October 2010 issue. I am particularly interested as a Chinese engineer living in Canada-albeit I came from Hong Kong long before its return to China. I am glad you observed that Chinese competitiveness is at least partially due to their workers' willingness to "put in 12-hour days and work weekends, with entrepreneurial zeal to do whatever it takes to advance." Another aspect is an old Chinese proverb that Chinese parents drill into their children: "There is gold in education." Western society needs to wake up its young generation; life is not all about indulging in self with consumption while ignoring how to pay for that consumption.

The Chinese workers' day will be coming too, just as it did in North America, Japan, and then to a lesser degree South Korea, when these workers taste the "good life" and want more and more, which could drive them to a lower productivity. That perhaps is core to capitalism.

This leads to a more cynical theory that I suspect. To avoid this path of "degeneration," I fear the Chinese government has engineered a perfect master plan. It is not obvious to the outside world since media access is largely restricted to the prosperous new growth regions. But Chinese rural communities are still very much subsisting at a 3rd-world level. Rural citizens are largely subsistent farmers, with little hope to move upward economically. Infrastructure including education is lacking for these areas, so younger people, by and large, cannot find better jobs unless they go the new economic growth zones (mostly along the coast). When they do so, they are precluded from bringing children since the children are not given education and medical access in the large cities. Thus children are left to the care of elderly family members back in the rural areas. These rural migrant workers also have restricted hope of growth as they end up living in employer owned housing, and they work the low-end manufacturing jobs, which are still dead-ended affairs, with no chance to accumulate wealth. Much of their wages have to be sent back to their villages to support other family members. When they become older or sick or maimed, they have no recourse but to return to the village, no richer than when they started years ago. Their children will grow up to face the same vicious cycle. Thus a continuing supply of cheap labor is achieved.

I do realize that there are some unrest in the migrant worker ranks now, as witnessed in the suicides in the Apple iPod factory and the walk-out in the Honda plant. However, I wonder if any critical mass can ever be achieved to break this cycle. Historically, the communist government would tolerate a certain level of "noise," and when it gets beyond an unwritten threshold, they can quench it with brutal and massive force.

Competitiveness aside, how long can the co-dependency between U.S. and China continue? The insatiable consumption of Chinese goods by the U.S. creates massive cash USD reserves in the hands of the Chinese. They in turn cannot afford to allow the U.S. to fail, or else their largest market will collapse. They hold huge stakes in U.S. Treasury Bonds and are buying up unprecedented number of Western businesses and natural resources. The Chinese communist government has never demonstrated any real humanity as the West knows it when dealing with serious issues. We are in worrisome times!

Wing Eng

Supervisory control applications

I read with great interest Steve Garbrecht's article "Component object-based SCADA" in the September/October issue of InTech.

Although it has been a long time since I and a colleague worked on a Honeywell PMX/PMC system at a gas cracker in Sarnia, Ontario, I remember that the PMX supervisory computer system came with a number of templates for creating image tags of the TDC 2000 tags and a single template for creating computer control tags. My colleague discovered that only one of the image tag templates was necessary to create all image tags. He also found a way to download an image tag database on the mainframe both to the TDC 2000 computer and the PMX supervisory computer. This was a simple task to create a script on the PMX supervisory control computers, which read the database file and create all the image tags automatically. The script, called an image tag template, modified its parameters based on the database records and created the image tag. Thus, TDC 2000 and images were created from a single source.

As you know, a gas cracker consists of a number of similar cracking furnaces and a number of similar distillation towers. Hence, it was a straightforward idea to create two master supervisory control applications-one for a furnace and one for a distillation tower-and use a script to create the actual supervisory control structures for a particular furnace or distillation tower based on modifying the methods and parameters of the single computer control template.

Unfortunately the display technology available on Honeywell PMX systems in the mid-1980s did not allow us to similarly create master supervisory control displays and automatically modify these to a particular furnace or distillation tower. However, I still consider the control structure part to be object-based as described in Garbrecht's article.

The above technology has long been replaced by more modern technology, which takes advantage of modern display technology and other features available in current Honeywell process control systems. However, that happened after I switched to an academic career in Denmark.

Niels Jensen