What differences are notable in this edition compared to the previous edition?
The principles in this book don’t change over time. Nothing really “new” was added. The natural laws that affect how electricity and electronics fundamentally work have not changed. This revision was more of a modernization of the language and the way we discuss these principles today. We also added some content regarding working safely and following safety protocols.
I hope the reader will have an easier time reading and comprehending the information provided. We modernized the nomenclature to be consistent with current methods and techniques of referencing variables.
How is this book different from others written on this subject?
This book provides a workbook for the reader to gain hands-on experience with the various principles and learn in a lab setting.
Who is this book best suited for?
It is designed for automation professionals, from instrumentation and calibration technicians to PLC programmers and maintenance professionals to automation engineers. Anyone who designs, develops, programs, configures, and/or troubleshoots SCADA-, PLC-, DCS-, and PAC-based systems will benefit. Our goal is to help readers improve their ability to diagnose problems and better design instrumentation and automation applications.
Are there any additional comments or thoughts you would like to add?
I would like to make myself available to readers who are interested in providing feedback or additional thoughts. Those interested can reach out to me through my LinkedIn profile here. I’m sure there are better ways to discuss the topics in the book, and there are even some mistakes. Let’s start a dialogue, and we can improve the next edition while keeping everyone informed of any improvements until then.
What are some key takeaways from this book? What type of content can the reader expect to uncover?
I hope the reader gains a foundational level of understanding of how instruments and PLCs work. With today's technology, programming a PLC or configuring a DCS is relatively easy. It’s almost too easy, and knowledge of the fundamental principles of control systems is not necessarily required. This is a bit frightening to me, as both a Certified Automation Professional and Professional Engineer. Too many assumptions are made about how things operate, and processes respond when a user does not understand how the equipment works. We end up programming around misapplications of technology instead of fixing the root cause.
What happens in the wires when we connect a device to a PLC? How is the physical world translated into the digital world and back again?
Please tell us about your professional background.
I received formal education as an electrical engineer and got my automation training on the job working for Anheuser Busch from 1994 through 2013. I had the privilege and opportunity to apply my electrical engineering training in developing control systems for a variety of processes. This allowed me to understand how the devices and the PLCs I configured and programmed really worked. It allowed me to be an exceptional troubleshooter and a resource who has been called upon to solve the most challenging control issues. When troubleshooting problems, you cannot make any assumptions, and with the fundamental knowledge in this book, you will be able to dig into the field devices that are sending the data to the control system.
I am fortunate to have been engaged in control systems very early in my career, and I have worked for some great people who allowed me to learn, make mistakes, and learn some more. One of my colleagues recently said, “You can’t really learn it unless you can break it;” there is a lot of truth in that statement. Building things in a lab, taking things apart and putting them back together, and being forced to recover from one of your mistakes are powerful learning tools. I hope everyone has a lab or sandbox where they work so they can try out new things, fix problems, and learn.
Why is a book on basic electricity important to automation professionals?
The advancement of cheap memory and more sophisticated coding tools, even automating the code development process, has caused automation professionals to lose critical skills in how all these things work both independently and as a system. Today, most people solve problems by Googling and trying what some guy on a YouTube video says to do. I’ve watched professionals try many different things and create many more problems because they did not understand how things work.
We need to relearn the techniques required to find the root cause and solve the problem. Just applying a fix without understanding what caused the problem is not solving the issue. It simply pushes the issue off to someone else to fix later. Eventually, all we are doing is temporarily fixing things and never solving anything. As we move farther away from the fundamentals, the overall risk of catastrophic failure grows. As a professional engineer with an ethical responsibility to protect the public, I feel it is very important to mentor and teach other automation professionals the topics in this book.
About Lawrence M. Thompson
Lawrence (Larry) M. Thompson was the owner and general manager of ESdat Co. (Electronic Systems: development and training company), a consulting firm specializing in industrial data communications. Throughout his distinguished career, Thompson was a technician, technical trainer, and course developer in electronics, measurement/control, and computer networking. A 20-year veteran of the US Air Force, Thompson specialized in maintaining electronic encryption equipment during his service. His post-military industrial experience included positions as a technician, test engineer, and test engineering supervisor for numerous companies.
Thompson held a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and science from Tarleton State University and worked on a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Texas. He retired from his role as Department Chair for E-Commerce Technology at Texas State Technical College to run his own consulting business full time. He was an adjunct instructor for the International Society of Automation (ISA) for over 35 years. He wrote several books, including ISA’s Industrial Data Communications and Basic Electrics/Electronics for Control, and was a Certified Automation Professional (CAP).
About Dean Ford
Dean Ford, CAP, PE, is the Managing Principal Engineer at Luminary Automation and Engineering, LLC, a firm he cofounded. His entire 25-plus-year career has involved automation systems engineering and consulting. Initially stumbling into the profession via a co-op opportunity at Anheuser-Busch in 1994, he fell in love with the automation.
Ford is a licensed Control Systems Engineer in 24 states and a Certified Automation Professional (CAP). He is a senior member of the International Society of Automation (ISA) and participates in many industry standards committees. He is an active member of many industry groups, including the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Smart Water Networks Forum (SWAN), the Government Relations and Workforce Development committees for the Automation Federation, and the AWWA Water Utility Technology and Automation Committee (WUTAC).
Ford holds a BS in electrical engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and an Executive MBA from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.
Ford was presented with the opportunity to continue the legacy of Larry Thompson’s work after Thompson passed in 2020. He is honored to continue the work Thompson started and to continue teaching automation professionals the foundational skills required to make them well-rounded automation professionals.