The Best Process Control Technical Resources May Be Out of Print

The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is  Tip #53.

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerI have about 100 binders of articles and papers and 100 books that were gathered between 1974 and 2004. I acquired about a half of the articles and papers from the late Vernon Trevathan along with his expertise in compressor control, pH control, and tuning and control loop performance. I haven’t added much since 2004 except for some new books because everything published today is on the Internet. Right now almost half of the binders and books are sitting in our dining room since I am working from home. So far people eating dinner don’t seem too interested in reading my collection even though I consider them a treasure of knowledge. These guests don’t know what they are missing. Maybe automation professionals today don’t know what they are missing. Unfortunately, I can’t invite them all over for dinner. Hmm, could a big Texas BBQ be the means, or would we all just get happy from Lone Star beer? Either way, the idea is worth a try. Look for the announcement on ISA Interchange.

I got a scare when wildfires were burning down whole towns within a couple of miles of my spread (Texas talk). I was told you have five minutes to leave once the police or fire officials knock on your door. I gathered an overnight bag, my senior citizen medicines, and a dozen out-of-print books and booklets that have technical information not found elsewhere. The booklets had test results and equations for pH and ORP electrodes from the inventor and founder of the company for the first accurate and reliable steam sterilizable electrodes. The original company has been bought several times and the new owners don’t know these booklets exist. I found a similar problem with Shinskey’s books and papers. I need to scan in my collection or at least put them in a spreadsheet. I have scanned in key papers on material and energy balances for extruders for my model being developed in MiMiC. I also scanned in key research papers by Bill Luyben on valve position control, recycle system stability, and the effect of exothermic reactor temperature lags on the window of allowable controller gains.

The best books are largely out of print. Publishers making decisions as to which books will stay in print only look at sales trends. When we didn’t hire many automation professionals in the 1980s and 1990s, sales went down. There was no concept of expert or knowledge.

How else can you explain why most of Shinskey’s books are out of print? A company (UMI – ProQuest) microfilmed books in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where permission was given back to the author but the results were hit or miss. Fortunately, I purchased from UMI the book The Determination of pH, which has a hundred times the content of any other book on the physical principles for pH before the reprint company went out of business.

As far as I know, the UMI microfilm files were lost. My most important books suffered this fate. Fortunately, Momentum Press is putting books like mine back in print.

Concept: Most of the major discoveries in connection with control valves, control strategies, model predictive control (MPC), PID control, and process measurements were made prior to 2004, except for some “smart” features and wireless communications. Publications (other than handbooks) that describe these developments are largely out of print. You can buy used books, but after this book is published, the cost of the best may skyrocket. You can get libraries to get reprints of articles and papers for a fee but you need to know the publication details. I see a need to put a list of over 1,000 articles and papers I have collected online as the best of the best.

Details: Find everything you can that was written by Karl Åström, Béla Lipták, Bill Luyben, Greg Shinskey, and Cecil Smith. Other exceptional books (if you want to dig deep into process dynamics) are Peter Harriott’s Process Control and Roger Frank’s Modeling and Simulation in Chemical Engineering. If you do not have a chemical engineering degree, I suggest Max Peter’s Elementary Chemical Engineering. You should also have Perry’s Chemical Engineers Handbook. If you are in the biopharmaceutical industry, I suggest James Bailey’s Biochemical Engineering Fundamentals. See Appendix B of 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career for a list of books that have essential information not being published today.

Watch-Outs: Be wary of oversimplifications and glorifications where selling is the overriding motivation. Hunter Vegas’ Tip #2 is right to the point with this concern. Unfortunately, the authors listed above are gone or will soon be gone, and, sadly, most professionals today don’t know these names. The articles being published today are mostly written by marketing and sales to showcase their products and by academics to showcase their research, without plant experience or an understanding of the knowledge of the authors mentioned above.

Exceptions: For the most part, new publications on pneumatic instruments and controllers are no longer relevant. Beware of any publications that show pneumatic signal lines or differential head flowmeters downstream of control valves because both mistakes indicate a lack of practical experience.

Insight: The automation profession has matured, but more than 80 percent of the process control opportunities afforded by technological advances are not realized due to a lack of practical knowledge by all types of automation professionals.

Rule of Thumb: Find key articles, papers, and books, and read an average of 10 pages a week.

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