1 June 2007

The value of cross-pollination

By Peter Baker

Community? Tell me about it. I belong. 

Yes, I am a member of a community. I am not referring to the wonderfully artistic and culturally diverse 'Nordeast' community of Minneapolis that I moved to a couple of years ago.

I am referring to an online community. There are any number of online communities to join and they offer assistance in solving work-related problems.

The online community I belong to is the ISA-sponsored Controls Manufacturing Community List. It is an online discussion group where participants present questions involving instrumentation issues and other participants respond.

Since I became a member, my sense of the participants in this forum is their backgrounds are as varied as the issues presented. This is fantastic, and therein lays the brilliance of the whole forum.

Through this community, we experience instrumentation issues beyond the scope of our own narrow industry, bound as it may be within the geographical confines of a country or philosophical dogma.

This community, much like a real life community, can broaden our knowledge base by exposing us to a completely different set of experiences brought to the table by the other participants. Is this a good thing? Let me explain.

At the start of my career, I was a traveling salesman. Yes, I knew all the salesman jokes, but I also knew my "stuff." My customers were happy to see me because I not only offered them solutions to their measurement application issues but just like the travelers in days of yore, I brought information and news from other industries and other geographical areas.

Over my long and varied career, the only things that have changed have been the size and/or the scope of the area covered. Today, the World Wide Web has not only changed the size and scope of the territory but also the speed at which one can cover it. 

We can now be exposed to and benefit from, not only professionals in our own particular industry, but also experts in other industries, and those with a different experience than our own who are implementing instrumentation solutions.

For instance, who better to ask about winterizing instrumentation for outdoor climates than an instrumentation person from Fort McMurray where winter temperatures can get down to -50ºF?

If your issue is 100% condensing humidity, ask someone that works in the Philippines or an equatorial country-they will have an answer.

The Pulp & Paper industry faces similar process issues at waste treatment plants.
The liquor industry and the oil industry both refine raw products. One is oil, and the other is corn mash. 

How about that pneumatic recorder? Reliably, working day in and day out in the smokehouse at the meat packing plant. Who knows anything about those relics? 

Ask the forum, and a relic like me might just reply. The point is there are many similar measurements happening in widely diverse industries that would in all likelihood not talk with each other.

In this world of political correctness and cover-your-behind and libel protection, I find it refreshing that a forum like this exists and there is a free flow of information and the spirit of exchange.

Yes, there could be some who feel this forum should only be open to individuals with certain "professional qualifications." It is my experience that those who do not add constructive input drop out and away much like poor ideas (DC street lamps, 10-50mA signals) of days past.

This community facilitates, even encourages, a CROSS-POLLINATION of ideas, not just across industry but also across geographical territories and generations. 

This is made possible by individuals of all educational and industry backgrounds and experience levels contributing.

Is this a good thing? The answer is a resounding YES! How exciting and stimulating.

About the Author

Peter Baker (pbaker@epgco.com) is an ISA Senior member. He works in SCADA and instrumentation with the EPG Group of Companies. The community to which he refers is Controls Manufacturing Community List (controls@isa-online.org).