Less theory, more practice
Regarding "One size does not fit all" by Jerry Spindler (Executive Corner, January/February InTech), I had the opportunity in between engineering jobs in 2009 to help develop curriculum for instrument training for Brazosport College, south of Houston, under a grant from Texas Workforce Commission and The Department of Labor. We discovered the same thing that Mr. Spindler's article points out: it is good to go over the theory of instrumentation and instrument systems, but it did not really sink in until we went to the lab and the students were able to practice what they had seen in the classroom. Our goal was about 25 percent classroom and 75 percent lab. This made for a fun class for the instructors as well.
Energy cost reduction
The least costly unit of energy is the one that doesn't have to be generated. "Taking control of energy use" by Kevin Klustner (System Integration, March/April InTech) provides an excellent summary of how energy cost avoidance through demand management can be used advantageously by manufacturers. One of the keys is to have a good baseline profile of the plant load - especially in the manufacturing and facilities management processes. New technology is providing the ability to get more and more granular detail about the plant load by integrating energy measuring capability into the automation devices. This technology reduces the burden of the user to buy and install dedicated meters throughout the plant. Just gaining visibility to the baseline data is powerful, and, as Klustner described, it opens up a world of possibilities for proactive ways to manage energy costs. And if you can extend this capability to incorporate energy usage for all utilities into your manufacturing or processing bill of materials, and begin to manage it like other valuable resources in the production process, you can increase energy cost reduction even more. You don't have to wait until energy costs rise again to have an energy program like this in place.
New dogs, old tricks
In response to: "Enabling new automation engineers" by Danaca Jordan, Greg McMillan, Héctor Torres, and Hunter Vegas (Process Automation, January/February InTech), the main challenge for the new engineers is that of obsolescence. Most of the systems are getting obsolete, and interest in understanding the old systems is rare. New engineers are very sharp with computers and smart phones, but how do you encourage a liking for the old books that have been used for more than 20-odd years with old concepts, so that the new engineers can gain the knowledge for doing a technical one-to-one replacement of the system?
Danaca Jordan replied:
As a mentor, you can greatly influence the resources that your mentees use and go to for information. My best mentors recommend individual books, articles, and authors for various problems and let me do the specific research myself. For a brand new-to-me technology, without that initial book suggestion, I begin research on the Internet because of the broad search capability.
Greg McMillan replied:
In our recent ISA book titled, 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, Hunter Vegas and I provide several automation tips. I advocate in Tip #53 reading articles, books, and papers by Béla Lipták, Bill Luyben, Greg Shinskey, and Cecil Smith with the realization that anything depicted is much more easily configured in the modern day distributed control system (DCS). There needs to be a common control language.
Ensuring successful outcomes
In response to "Projects commissioning with Fieldbus Foundation" by Augusto Pereira and Ian Verhappen (Web Exclusive, March/April InTech), I would like to stress that the procedures and documents to ensure a successful commissioning and certainty of outcome for a project involving fieldbus are available. See, for example, the AG-181 engineering guideline at www.fieldbus.org. The document not only provides new procedures, but also guides where old analog procedures for 4-20 mA and on/off signals are no longer required, such as using a simple plausibility check in lieu of five-point loop test, simplifying commissioning overall. You can port the pointers in the guideline to your corporate document format. Independent consultants and PMC with experience from prior projects are able to assist and may have their own documentation ready. Most EPC contractors and consultants by now have also developed their own work processes and training for fieldbus design, installation, and commissioning. This way you can minimize risk, provide full functionality, and ensure reliable communication, such that installation can be handed over on time and provides high availability for a long time. Simple fieldbus testers like the Relcom FBT-6 are easy to use, even easier than a multi-meter in my personal opinion, speeding up troubleshooting by detecting problems. Proper tools provide a quick solution to problems that may be encountered during commissioning. There are also expert tools as shown in the article. A troubleshooting guide that can help in the quick resolution of problems can be found at www.relcominc.com. Make use of these fieldbus procedures and tools. Simple visual inspection of the installation is often the most powerful "tool." Use registered fieldbus cable to ensure noise rejection and prevent signal distortion, protecting the bus, preventing communication errors, and, in turn, ensuring reliable operation. Project benefits seen from fieldbus include reduced I/O cards and wiring, reduced device count, elimination of proprietary protocols, and faster commissioning. The operations & maintenance benefits from fieldbus includes high signal integrity, high signal fidelity, tighter control, signal status in real time, more powerful devices, more device diagnostics, and online upgrades. With the commissioning done right, these benefits can materialize and be valuable.