The danger of what you don’t know you don’t know

Think of an engineering degree as a license to learn rather than an end in itself.

09/04/2012


Engineering disciplines, like a lot of educational disciplines, have become very narrowly focused. At some level this is a necessary trend, since to be expert in every aspect of a field has become something that is almost impossible to accomplish. Very few mechanical engineers are experts in metallurgy, hydraulics, machine design, HVAC design, thermodynamics, mechanics of materials, strength of materials, metal cutting operations, metal forming operations, and, well, the list goes on. An engineering student attempting to delve deeply enough in every aspect of his or her chosen discipline to be an “expert” would never finish college. Most colleges don’t even attempt to expose a student to all the aspects of a discipline, but expect specialization early on in the undergraduate program. If you’re an electrical engineer, you may have to choose between electronics and power.

The result is many engineers don’t even know what they don’t know about what their jobs require after they graduate. Take working in the field of process control as an example. Many of the controls engineers I’ve encountered have no innate knowledge of what’s connected to their control system and how that might affect their control design. When asked what they are controlling, they can usually tell you if it is a level or flow or temperature or whatever, and they can usually tell you they are operating a valve to do so, but when asked what kind of valve, they may or may not know if it’s a globe or ball or butterfly, what size it is, what the characteristics of the trim are, or what the impact of all these details might have on the control design. Therefore, they also won’t know what the impact of the control design might be on the valve. Are they forcing the valve to operate in a range where it will cause cavitation or cause the fluid to flash? Are there operating conditions where the valve will wire draw its seat? Can the valve respond as fast as the control loop needs to control the process properly? Similar questions can be asked about the sensors.

Most of the time the answer to all these questions is, “It doesn’t really matter.” Most of the time the loop can be tuned to accommodate the requirements of the system. However, sometimes that isn’t enough, and changes to the code are required. The danger lies in those times when it does matter and often it’s only revealed when the disaster happens. I once watched a six inch schedule 80 pipe whip like a rope because a piping designer didn’t know about water hammer. As a result, two men ended up in the hospital with broken bones and were lucky that’s all that happened to them. If any of the pipe welds had failed, people would probably have died.

So, if you don’t know that you don’t know something that you need to know, how do you find out? If you’re new to a job, keep your eyes and ears open. When you see or hear something you don’t know about, ask. Fortunately, most engineers are more than happy to expound on their knowledge. Those of us who have been doing the job for a long time have been in your position at one time or another, so while we might get a laugh out of your question, we’ll respect you for asking it. Also keep in mind that an engineering degree doesn’t teach you everything, it just gives you the tools to learn.

This post was written by Bruce Brandt. Bruce is the DeltaV technology leader at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.



The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Women in engineering; Engineering Leaders Under 40; PID benefits and drawbacks; Ladder logic; Cloud computing
Robotic integration and cloud connections; SCADA and cybersecurity; Motor efficiency standards; Open- and closed-loop control; Augmented reality
Controller programming; Safety networks; Enclosure design; Power quality; Safety integrity levels; Increasing process efficiency
This article collection contains several articles on how advancements in vision system designs, computing power, algorithms, optics, and communications are making machine vision more cost effective than ever before.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Women in engineering; Engineering Leaders Under 40; PID benefits and drawbacks; Ladder logic; Cloud computing
Robotic integration and cloud connections; SCADA and cybersecurity; Motor efficiency standards; Open- and closed-loop control; Augmented reality
Controller programming; Safety networks; Enclosure design; Power quality; Safety integrity levels; Increasing process efficiency
This article collection contains several articles on how advancements in vision system designs, computing power, algorithms, optics, and communications are making machine vision more cost effective than ever before.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Women in engineering; Engineering Leaders Under 40; PID benefits and drawbacks; Ladder logic; Cloud computing
Robotic integration and cloud connections; SCADA and cybersecurity; Motor efficiency standards; Open- and closed-loop control; Augmented reality
Controller programming; Safety networks; Enclosure design; Power quality; Safety integrity levels; Increasing process efficiency
This article collection contains several articles on how advancements in vision system designs, computing power, algorithms, optics, and communications are making machine vision more cost effective than ever before.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me