What we learned about engineering communication

Think again about engineering communication and advice: Listening attentively is a learned skill; key phrases such as “what we learned” provide clues about where special attention is needed. Heed this advice on knowledge creation, automation investments, and cyber security from automation and control experts.

By Mark T. Hoske February 12, 2016

Sharing what we hear from others would be difficult without filtering and summarizing. When an engineering expert does that for you by saying, "Here’s what we learned" or "Key takeaways are … " be sure to listen attentively, take careful notes, and underline key points.

With the advice below, think again about knowledge creation, automation investments, and asset protection from presentations during fall 2015. 

Contextual data, knowledge

When data becomes information, ensure appropriate context and intelligence are included to create value. Tom Hechtman, MES product architect, Inductive Automation, explained that Abraham Wald, a statistician, was asked to help determine where to add armor to WWII bombers. Many returned with heavy damage to wings, nose, and tails, which he counted and noted. In a move that seemed counterintuitive, Wald focused on adding armor where the bullet holes never appeared in the shot-up planes that returned. The planes shot in those areas didn’t return.

"Having some data is not the same as having knowledge," Hechtman said, as part of the Inductive Automation ICC ’15 Build conference in September. "When data is not in the proper context, you don’t have knowledge."

Past-due investments

Invest in your future. The average age of U.S. industrial equipment is the highest it’s been since 1938, explained Raj Batra, president, digital factory division, Siemens Industry Inc., citing Morgan Stanley figures. "If you cannot keep an iPhone a year, why have automation on the plant floor for 40 years?" Batra asked the audience at the PI North America 21st General Assembly Meeting 2015, in September. Siemens is serious about digitalization, he said, investing 10 billion Euro since 2007, to make technology backward compatible, to enhance vertical connections, to create digital twins, and to simulate before anything is mechanical. The Siemens plant in Amber, Germany, produces 12 million Simatic automation products a year, with eight times the production in the same footprint since 1989, Batra said.

Protecting connections

Protect your assets. While weaknesses will always exist, secure networking protocols are a key element of defense-in-depth strategy, explained David Doggett, on the ODVA Task Force for Cybersecurity. "All entities on a network should be considered untrusted until authenticated, access to devices should not be allowed until authorized by the device, and physical access to a device should be limited to trusted individuals," Doggett noted at the ODVA annual conference, Frisco, Texas, in October 2015. Secure devices should reject altered data, reject messages sent by unknown or untrusted people or devices, and reject messages that request things not allowed by that source.

This advice can help with smart designs, intelligent investments, and asset protection. Share your wisdom and successes at www.controleng.com/contribute.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE extra

Has more information than would fit in the February Think Again column and the following links to related articles and additional information. www.inductiveautomation.com