Guest commentary: Seven habits of highly successful control engineers, part 1

A three-part examination by George Buckbee of ways control engineers can become more effective. Part one of three. (Links to parts 2 and 3 follow, below.)

02/04/2009


Part one: Highly successful control engineers didn’t become that way by accident. The most successful engineers develop habits that improve results and gain recognition of those results. This discussion addresses specific habits that you can develop or enhance to be more successful.

These habits were developed over 20 years, working with thousands of control engineers around the world. I have seen some people who struggled to identify their results, and others who had great results, but couldn’t get recognition. Over these three installments, we’ll look at some of the habits that have ensured success for the most effective of these engineers. The habits are:

1. Know the process;
2. Focus only on the most important things;
3. Document the baselines;
4. Use tools to be more effective;
5. Network and communicate results;
6. Keep learning; and
7. Share your knowledge.

We’ll look at each one of them, and provide some suggestions for ways to improve your own rate of success.

1: Know the process—Knowing the process is the first and most important habit for control engineers. To be effective in the automation and control of a process, you must first have a thorough understanding of it. Developing process knowledge takes time and effort. Start by studying process flow diagrams and P&IDs. Trace the primary product as it flows through the process, highlighting it on the drawing with a colored marker.

Talk to operators, because they work with the process day in and day out. They understand a lot about how the process normally behaves. They also know about the abnormal and unusual things that can happen during equipment failures, shutdowns, start-ups, and shift changes. The process doesn’t always behave according to the text book. Make sure you know what to expect in abnormal situations. Once you begin to get a sense of what’s going on, tools like Process Interaction Mapping can help you to pinpoint the source of control upsets.

2:to the business. In his book “First Things First,” Stephen Covey advises, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

In a process manufacturing environment, the “main thing” is usually some combination of these factors:

  • Unit cost;

  • Production rate;

  • Quality;

  • Energy costs;

  • Reliability; and

  • Environmental and safety.

ExperTune video case studies
ExperTune offers video case studies.

It will be very difficult to prove success if you cannot link your work to one or more of these factors.
Read part two.

Read part three.

George Buckbee, P.E., is VP of marketing and product development for ExperTune . Reach him at george.buckbee@expertune.com .

—Edited by Peter Welander, process industries editor, PWelander@cfemedia.com ,
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