Future of Automation and Control

Over at the ISA Interchange blog, an interesting set of questions about the future appeared from the ISA Mentor Program:

What do you see as changes occurring now and in the future? Today, is working from home better or worse than driving across town to a factory or office? Does that kind of change affect cost, availability, quality, schedule, stability, marketability, or some other factors? Are these changes positive or negative? Do they suggest review of methodology (e.g., operations research) might be appropriate? If some changes are better and some make things worse, can it all be restructured into a dependably positive outcome?

Oklahoma State University’s Russ Rhinehart, Professor Emeritus, BP Chair of Chemical Engineering, highlighted the digitalization of information. Here are a few select bullets in his thoughtful response:

  • E-versions do not require paper, printing, inventory, and shipping. This is a “green” move toward reduction in resource use and waste
  • It is much faster to search for keywords in e-versions relative to using chapter titles or indices to find the right page in print books
  • E-versions of materials can contain links to other materials such as simulators or videos to support understanding or simulators for user testing. Both are major advantages over print versions of materials, since they do not require the material, labor, and infrastructure needed to support print—so they are less expensive
  • One incentive for authors to publish for open access on the internet includes providing learning materials for college and training courses and providing knowledge. However, other incentives to publish include the generation of “evidence” that the author is an expert. This may be motivated by personal benefit such as promotion, ego, immigration application, or as a teaser for you to hire their expertise. This means that much of the “information” out there is superficial, or even erroneous. There is no referee to validate the material. Novices seeking knowledge must become critical thinkers to reject that sort of stuff. Education needs to better prepare students to critically evaluate the material given to them by “experts”

McGraw-Hill Process/Industrial Instrumentation and Controls Handbook Sixth EditionEmerson’s Greg McMillan also shared many thoughts. Here are a couple:

Readers today tend not to be given the time to explore and learn on the job due to the increasing pressure of schedules. There is not much free time off the job these days due to a variety of reasons. To help readers quickly focus on and retrieve essential information recognizing time constraints, I have inserted rules of thumbs, key insights, and best practices in my books since 2004. The rules of thumb and key insights are flagged with an icon, and the best practices in my most recent books (McGraw-Hill Process/Industrial Instrumentation and Controls Handbook Sixth Edition, ISA New Directions in Bioreactor Modeling and Control Second Edition, and ISA Advanced pH Measurement and Control Fourth Edition) are inserted at the end of each section or chapter. Once you value a book as a resource, you may realize that for creativity and innovation there an advantage of just flipping through a book not knowing specifically what you are looking for and subsequently investing some time to read a section.

My hope is that the extensive expertise in these books and the value of learning and using this expertise is not lost. My concern is the expectation in universities and industry that artificial intelligence will replace the need for this expertise will result in data scientists and not process control engineers being prevalent. Since money is the primary motive in executive decisions, the development and installation of online monetarized key performance indicators (KPI) can promote the value of better instrumentation and automation.

Greg has an amazing library of books, YouTube videos, and articles (ISA Interchange blog, ControlGlobal.com) to enhance your automation & control knowledge. The International Society of Automation (ISA) is another excellent source for learning.

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