Control Engineering's Process Control Newsletter for January 2001


In this issue:

'Your business is important to us, please hold!'

I've lost count of the times I've heard that or similar recorded messages and each time it causes my blood pressure to rise a few points and makes me wonder: does this company have the slightest clue about customer satisfaction and service support?

Based on conversations with many of you, I haven't been singled out as the sole recipient of less-than-satisfactory customer service. Many of you have been quite vocal about the need for improved product quality and more responsive service support from your control and automation system suppliers.

We have been listening, and on Feb. 4th through Feb. 24th, Control Engineering Online will sponsor a control and automation service support survey. With over 80,000 visits to Control Engineering Online each month, we expect to learn what service elements are really important and report the results in the June 2001 issue. Oh, and did I mention you may be eligible to win one of five $200 e-gift certificate drawings? What a deal--a chance to sound off AND win a prize. Please, please, please take the time to complete this survey.


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Security Concerns - Follow-up

Last month I shared tidbits about hackers accessing files at a medical center, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the findings of a small-business-owner security survey. I also asked two questions about security of business and control and automation systems.

Apparently most of you have been more diligent about protecting control and automation systems against hacker attacks and virus intrusions than I would have guessed. Congratulations and keep up the good work!

One responder shared he works closely with the IT department to ensure system security and despite offers from control and automation suppliers to conduct remote diagnostics they have chosen not to allow external connections to the process control network. They aren't convinced many people recognize and appreciate the risk of such connections.

For those of you who shared your control and automation systems might be more vulnerable than they should (and for those who didn't respond, but know your systems are vulnerable), I hope you will make 2001 the year you improve protection of your control and automation systems.


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Power & grounding - Still important?

Before I began this writing gig, I spent many hours on plant/shop floors installing and applying control and automation systems. One of the things I learned was the importance of clean power and good grounding; but that was in the days before digital fieldbus, open systems, and personal computers being used for operator interface and application servers.

I got to wondering, is power and grounding more or less important now than it use to be? Do low-level digital fieldbus signals suffer from bad practices related to shielding, surge protection, etc.? Are dedicated plant ground grids still required? What's the effect of small horsepower variable frequency/speed drives?

What are your thoughts--is power and grounding a subject that deserves more coverage? Send your thoughts and experiences to

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Chief Technology Officer - Friend or foe?

On the '70's TV show 'Laugh In,' the phrase 'Here comes the judge, here comes the judge!' became popular enough that Pontiac named the 1970 GTO 'The Judge.'

Thirty-plus years later a new phrase is being heard across corporate America, 'Here comes the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).' It's not as catchy but I'm wondering how a CTO senior management position might affect control and automation systems. I can see a need for senior level management to have someone who understands the technologies of e-this and e-that, but I'm less clear about how/if a CTO influences control and automation systems.

If you have experience and/or thoughts about the pros and cons of CTOs, please share them by sending an email to


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Safety Instrumented Systems - Education

A recent Process and Safety Systems Update from Factory Mutual Research included an article by Paris Stavrianidis addressing the continued need for continued education in the areas of certification, SIL, probability to fail on demand, and more, all in an effort to ensure users comply with ISA S84.01, IEC 61508, and IEC d61511. Visit to read the entire article and sign up to join FM's mailing list.

Beginning early last year, Control Engineering Online added ' Safety Systems ' as a sub-channel under the 'Process Control and Advanced Control' channel, and throughout the year we have added several articles about the topics Mr. Stavrianidis mentioned. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting reading the articles are a substitute for formal training. What I am suggesting is reading our articles might help you learn what you don't know and help you convince the boss you need training.

One of the safety-system areas people struggle with is defining, quantifying, and selecting an appropriate SIL. If that describes you or your company, take a look at PROBE 2.0 on . Probe 2.0 provides risk analysts and control system engineers with a flexible solution for estimating the frequency of unwanted accidents, a core element in establishing an SIL.


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January in Control Engineering

Issue theme: Connecting the plant floor... What, how, where, who, when, and why to connect the plant/shop floor with the boardroom.

How to architect information technology for the plant/shop floor
Businesses will live or die by how well the information system-way beyond routers, switches, and cables-delivers knowledge. An information system for the plant/shop floor built alongside electrical, piping, controls, and other crafts, can successfully share plant and shop floor knowledge to help optimize the enterprise. Methodology counts when trying to define production goals.

Connecting control and automation system devices
Plant- and shop-floor devices hold the pearls of wisdom businesses needed for effective use of enterprise-level software. Different ways of connecting control and automation system devices help ensure control and informational data don't get in one another's way. OPC may be the right connectivity method among plant and shop floor devices, while XML and its many parts (XLL, XSL, and XSLT) may be the protocol of choice when sharing share data and assembling real-time knowledge across enterprise domains.

Data warehouse
IT generally owns and operates enterprise data warehouses. Even so, plant- and shop-floor engineers need to understand about data warehousing to make the best use of available data mining tools and the resulting information available.

Distributed motion control
Motion control contributes to connecting the plant floor. An industry expert explains what is distributed motion control, its advantages/disadvantages, what's making it more popular, and when it should be considered. Benefits of distributed motion control over centralized control will be summarized to give users tips on selecting the best architecture. An Online Extra article will round out the perspective.

Simplify your network
Here's how simplifying network design-through compliance with one protocol, prioritizing required functions, or other methods-can help formerly 'unconnected' users secure the efficiencies and cost savings they need to succeed.

Product Focus: Networking
Original Control Engineering research examines trends and user issues with networking and related devices, such as switches, routers, and hubs. Recent product descriptions from leading suppliers will be included, along with research results.

Technology Update: Universal Serial Bus on the plant/shop floor
What is Universal Serial Bus (USB) and how it might affect plant-floor connectivity?

Application Update: Ethernet installation in auto plant
Learn how Ethernet was installed and implemented for automation and enterprise integration at an automotive transmission plant.

Back to Basics: Physical media
When installing and terminating copper media on the plant floor, it's good to look at physical media considerations and review good engineering practices.


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Dave's Public Service Announcement

The 8th annual World Batch Forum 'Meeting of the Minds' conference will be held in Orlando, Florida at the Sheraton World Resort beginning April 1st and running through April 4th. This year's theme is 'Batch Manufacturing in the New Economy.' For more information, visit

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Last month's poetry challenge

Last month I said the fall of the dot-coms reminded me of Tennyson's poem, 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and ask if anyone could write a similar poem titled 'The Charge to Get Rich Quick.'

Greg Smith and Larry Arndt accepted my challenge and can now say they are published poets.

The Charge to Get Rich Quick!
By Greg Smith

Into the Valley of Silicon rode the dot-comers,
lured by tales of fortune, web-enabled riches.
No naysayers could stop the booming e-commerce,
'I'm off to get wealthy, you poor sons of bitches!'

They laughed as they quit in droves and in clusters,
a new world to pursue the IPO Grail.
Not knowing that soon they would feel like poor Custer,
outflanked by e-vultures with their stock price derailed.

Who could have known they'd find this much trouble?
That limitless growth and new economy bounty
was based on a model that perched on a bubble?

What a strange turn of events when profit was a crime.
Earnings were out and the growth model ruled.
Woe to the e-company that earned so much as a dime!
How could they know they were just being fooled?

New billionaires were made, no question that's true.
But what of the rest of the dot-comers,
who look like me and you?

Life will go on, all is not lost.
They'll pick up the pieces and go on with their lives
Women to their husbands and men to their wives,
But still the dot-comers will ponder the cost.

Out of the Valley of Silicon rode the dot-comers,
bent but not broken by this fickle e-commerce.

The Charge to Get Rich Quick!
By Larry Arndt

Happily, happily,
Happily onward,
Onto the web of Death
Strode the cash hunger'd.
'Forget plans to be made
Charge for the funds' they said:
Onto the web of Death
Strode the cash hunger'd.

'Forget plans to be made!'
Was there a one dismay'd?
Not tho' the solider knew
Someone had blunder'd.
Their's not to make supply,
Their's not to restock, why?
Their's but to swoon and sigh.
Onto the web of Death
Strode the cash hunger'd.

Credit to the right of them,
Credit to the left of them,
Credit in front of them,
Not fully fund'd.
Sought out with phone and mail,
Boldly they strode and sail'd,
Onto the web of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Strode the cash hunger'd.

Flash'd all their VISA's bare,
Flash'd as in great despair,
Avoiding the creditors there,
Charging the futures while
All the world wonder'd
Plunged in with mirror and smoke
Right thro' the bottom line they broke;
Cussin' and rushin'
Reel'd from the market-stroke
Shatter'd and stunt'd.
Then they strode back, but not
Not all the cash hunger'd.

Credit to the right of them,
Credit to the left of them,
Credit behind them
Sully'd and sunder'd;
Stormed at with phone and mail,
While house and CEO fell,
They that had sought pell-mell
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of the cash hunger'd.

When can their memory fade?
O the wild charges they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Remember the charges they made,
Remember plans to be made,
Humbl'd cash hunger'd.


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