As manufacturing changed, so did PLANT ENGINEERING

I started with PLANT ENGINEERING magazine in November 1969 as an associate editor for environmental and safety coverage. My previous “plant engineering” experience was as the engineering officer on a Navy ship. “I don’t know a lot about pollution control,” I told the editor, Vern Kempf.


I started with PLANT ENGINEERING magazine in November 1969 as an associate editor for environmental and safety coverage. My previous “plant engineering” experience was as the engineering officer on a Navy ship.

“I don’t know a lot about pollution control,” I told the editor, Vern Kempf.

“That’s okay,” he replied. “Neither do our readers. Your job is to help them learn with you.” And learn we did.

Pollution had become a hot topic over the previous few years %%MDASSML%% so hot that PLANT ENGINEERING spun off a magazine devoted entirely to pollution control.

Many of our readers were struggling to become overnight experts as multiplying federal, state and local regulations brought increased pressures that were aggravated by their own management’s knee-jerk reactions. PLANT ENGINEERING responded with extensive coverage of everything from air particulates to wastewater treatment. Eventually, plant engineers led the way to better practices, some of the intense pressure subsided and a new “crisis” of one kind or another emerged.

This was a cycle I was to witness many times during my years with the magazine as our readers’ responsibilities grew and evolved. No matter what the latest trends are, it seems that plant engineers are always in the thick of them, helping %%MDASSML%% if not leading %%MDASSML%% the efforts to make their plants ever more productive and safe.

As the environmental issue unfolded, so did another challenge of equally far-reaching proportions: the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Again the plant engineer was put in the forefront of making everything right. The initial standards were a confusing amalgam of already existing voluntary standards that were often conflicting or just plain silly. Among the helps PLANT ENGINEERING brought to the fray was the first “Index to OSHA Standards,” a compilation that was later incorporated into OSHA’s official standards document.

Organized predictive maintenance was a relatively new concept at that time and not widely used. Although preventive maintenance is the jumping off point for all of the maintenance concepts that have followed, many plants still struggle to establish and continue effective PM programs.

A decade into my career, industrial computers became a significant reality. Initially, only the largest plants took advantage of this technology by developing their own computerized maintenance management systems. But with the advent of “off-the-shelf” CMMSs, the trend accelerated rapidly.

It would be many years before the issue of system integration would be seriously addressed; it still remains a challenge in most plants. Many CMMSs have morphed into EAM systems, and the large-scale business information systems have finally incorporated useful maintenance modules.

The energy crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s precipitated an unprecedented emphasis on energy conservation and management. Suddenly, plant engineers were being pushed to bring down energy usage and costs. They responded magnificently; many “temporary” measures became standard operating procedures. PLANT ENGINEERING helped with articles ranging from power factor to alternate fuels.

Perhaps the most profound change in plant engineering has been the introduction of electronics to the plant floor. It wasn’t too long ago that PLCs opened new opportunities for automation, and soon the rush to computerize the plant was on. PLANT ENGINEERING magazine assigned an editor full-time responsibilities for coverage of instrumentation and controls to help our readers keep up.

Economic conditions and competition have brought a new focus on productivity and the roles of maintenance and asset management. PdM, failure analysis, RCM, TPM, Lean and Six Sigma are among the most important challenges these days. Energy management has found a renewed emphasis.

Today, the magazine is only one of the media in the PLANT ENGINEERING family. Web sites, online seminars and other special publishing activities help the plant engineer learn, stay informed and solve problems.

The basic definition of plant engineering remains. Plant engineers, by whatever title, are still the people “responsible for the general operation and maintenance of the entire plant.” And PLANT ENGINEERING continues its dedication to helping plant engineers solve their everyday problems.

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