Guest commentary: Seven habits of highly successful control engineers, part 3

The last of a three-part examination by George Buckbee of ways control engineers can become more effective.

03/31/2009


Parts one and two appeared in our February and March issues. This month, we look at the final two habits.

6: Never stop learning--One of the great mentors in my career was Virgil Colavitti. Virgil had been working in the same plant for over 40 years. He seemed to know the inner workings of every machine, instrument, valve, transformer, and other device under the sun. In working with him, I learned why. He had a natural curiosity, and was never afraid to ask questions. In a group of people, he would often say, “I wonder how that works…” And sure enough, someone would explain it.

Today, you have a huge number of training resources available. You can take courses in your plant, at a training center, or over the web. No matter how obscure the topic, you will probably be able to find articles and even books.

It still pays to be careful. Make sure you are working with a credible source of information. Published authors and established companies are a great source of information. However, some on-line sources lack meaningful editorial control, and their accuracy is questionable at best.

At ExperTune, we have worked hard over 20 years to gain recognition as a source of knowledge in the field of process control, which is available to you in our on-line library .

ExperTune’s training courses offer practical, hands-on training, designed to help you be effective at managing control loops in your facility.

7: Share your knowledge--Typically, 20% to 30% of all control loops are running in manual. That fact should be shocking. Why don’t people take notice and step up to fix the problem? One reason may be that they simply don’t understand the significance and magnitude of the situation.

Process control is not well-understood by “lay people”. Twenty years after paying for my college education, my parents still have only a vague understanding of what it is that a process control engineer actually does. Even within the plant environment, there is often a vague mystery associated with process control. We use strange terminology, and talk about arcane things like dynamics , dead time , and derivative . Many plant people are simply confused by the topic, so sharing your knowledge with others can help make you and them more effective.

For your own success, if people understand what you do, they will have a better appreciation of the value you bring to the company. It’s hard to downsize someone that brings a lot of value!

Because other people often have limited if any process control knowledge, sharing even a little bit of your knowledge may be tremendously useful. For a while in my career, we used a lot of single point lesson plans—simple, one-page training aids. Think about how you might do a three-minute training session on a topic like:

  • How cascade control works;

  • Why we use filters on our instruments;

  • How to test the over-speed interlock; and

  • How to prevent valves from sticking.

Whenever I was called in to resolve a problem at night, I always followed up with a single-point lesson the following day. I figured that I would not need to be called in again on the same problem if 10 other people knew how to resolve it. You can be as formal or as informal as you wish, but the key point is to help spread some knowledge around.

Conclusions--Your results will improve and be recognized if you pay attention to the habits discussed in this paper. A typical control engineer should be able to solve problems or implement improvements that generate between 6 and 10 times his or her annual salary in savings and production increases. Always remember that documented results are key to success. Make sure you have the right tools and training to be successful in your company.

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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