Can We Talk?
It seemed like a simple enough question. "How many pages we will have in the September issue?" I asked our managing editor. "That depends on who's counting," he replied. Our business department monitors pages according to ad revenue; the post office counts pages by demographic distribution; and we editors count pages in terms of articles, news, and other information in the magazine.
It seemed like a simple enough question. "How many pages we will have in the September issue?" I asked our managing editor. "That depends on who's counting," he replied. Our business department monitors pages according to ad revenue; the post office counts pages by demographic distribution; and we editors count pages in terms of articles, news, and other information in the magazine. Who's right? It doesn't matter, as long as we have a common language with which to communicate our results.
Webster's Dictionary defines communication as "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior." The more complex the information, the more sophisticated the communication system needs to be.
In automation and control, the information to be communicated has become increasingly complex. With 4-20 mA as the standard in most instrumentation systems, communications were rather simple and straightforward. Even RTDs and thermocouples follow prescribed tabular values.
Smart sensors, digital networks, and intelligent control devices have added layers of complexity to the automation solution—so much so that an entire market is dedicated to developing and promoting network standards for industrial automation. Some of the more familiar brand names include DeviceNet, FOUNDATION fieldbus, Interbus, LonWorks, Modbus, Profibus, SDS, and Seriplex.
'Year of the Network'
To help our readers sort through the communication tangle, Control Engineering has declared 1998 as the "Year of the Network." Our continuing coverage on the topic includes two feature articles in this issue. Networked I/O Strategies, on p. 156, summarizes how suppliers are incorporating network standards in communication products. Industrial Network Applications, on p. 165, profiles users of the new network standards. Search our web site at www.controleng.com for more "Year of the Network" articles.
For controller-to-controller and controller-to-higher level communications, TCP/IP over Ethernet is emerging as the standard industrial network. Some would argue that Ethernet is suitable even at the device level. Articles later in the year will examine the use of Ethernet in process and manufacturing control.
Terminology standards are as important as network standards to industrial communications. Our cover stories—on Abnormal Situation Management (ASM), p. 68, and process safety regulations, p. 81—define ways for us to "speak the same language" when it comes to avoiding process disasters.
The ASM consortium is a unique blend of technology suppliers, users, and researchers. The members have teamed to demonstrate the technical feasibility of collaborative decision making to improve operator performance and avoid a disaster. The consortium has examined next-generation technologies, such as object-oriented programs and relational databases, as well as people issues. Like a good internist, ASM seeks to define the tools for situation monitoring, diagnosis, and recovery.
While you're thinking about communications in your control system, don't forget the importance of interpersonal communications. This issue's Career Update notes that "technology-minded people often go into their line of work because they enjoy data or things. When thrust into management, they adjust more easily by upgrading people skills." As in automation, effective communications can mean the difference between failure or success.
Jane S. Gerold, Editorial Director email@example.com