Continuous Improvement in an Automation Career Requires Continuous Solicitation of Feedback

Continuous Improvement in an Automation Career Requires Continuous Solicitation of Feedback

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 #50.

And so we have finally reached our last tip. Trust me when I say that this has NOT been an easy task. Distilling a career of engineering experience into one- or two-page tips is tough!

For the last tip, we chose this subject because we believe an individual should never stop learning and improving … and you cannot improve unless you know what you are doing wrong. The value of following this tip may seem obvious, especially to a young engineer, but it is not so for an older, more experienced professional. As engineers rise up the technical ladder and gain more prestige, asking for feedback often becomes increasingly difficult. Ego and pride get in the way and it becomes difficult to admit fault or error. As soon as that mindset creeps in, further improvement becomes impossible and decline is inevitable. The fact is that nobody is perfect and regardless of how high in his or her career an engineer might be, constant adjustments are necessary.

Two industrial engineers

Concept: After wiring a panel that you designed or working with a graphic that you created, ask for feedback from the technicians or operators. At the end of a large job, pull the team together and review the project to see what went well and what did not. Always seek to improve everything you do.

Details: Any day that passes without learning something is a wasted day. Continuous growth and improvement should be your goal regardless of your level of experience. The only way to accomplish that is to ask for feedback.

Expand beyond the usual list of client feedback forms or follow-up phone calls that most companies employ. What did the operators like/dislike about the system? Has Maintenance had any problems with a piece of equipment since it was installed? Do the technicians have any suggestions for improving a panel design to make it easier to fabricate or troubleshoot? Does the electrical contractor have any ideas for improving the design/installation documentation for the next project? All of these people can provide valuable ideas for improvement and you are probably the first person to actually ask their opinion. Ask the question, and then LISTEN to what they have to say.

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Watch-Outs: Do not get defensive. Most people feel the need to immediately defend their work against criticism. No matter how well founded the criticism, resist this urge. If the criticism seems unwarranted, it is acceptable to ask further questions to determine exactly why the person feels as they do, but it is not acceptable to deny or disparage that person’s point of view. Getting defensive will ensure that you will never receive any feedback from that person again.

Exceptions: If you are a leader, asking your direct reports for feedback can be problematic. They are understandably motivated to say only positive things for fear (however unfounded) that any negative comments could be held against them. It may be possible to establish a strong relationship with a senior team member and let him or her solicit general feedback from the team without specifically attributing a comment to a particular member. Sometimes other senior managers or project leaders can gather feedback from the team through other venues (such as performance reviews, etc.) or during casual conversation.

Insight: Possibly the most illuminating feedback will come from close friends or colleagues. These people, above all others, are in a position to straighten you out when you need it. When this happens fight back the defensive response, listen to what they have to say, and take it to heart.

Rule of Thumb: Continuous improvement requires the continuous solicitation of feedback. Once that feedback is received, ACCEPT it and act on it.

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an MBA from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.

High Pay Is Not Reason Enough to Stay in a Bad Industrial Automation Job

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 #49.

This tip is really an extension of Tip #47 and 48, and it discusses what can happen when those two tips are not followed.

I have had a number of bosses during my career. Most were superb, providing professional and technical guidance andAngry boss support when I needed it and giving me the reins and responsibility when they thought I was ready. However, two of those bosses were truly awful.

In both cases they became my boss through company personnel moves over which I had no control. Both individuals were manipulative and technically inept, but incapable of being wrong even though they were often wrong on a daily basis. In each case I stayed in the job about a year, thinking that I should give the situation and the boss at least twelve months before I considered any moves. Unfortunately, after a year each boss had proven to be even worse than I had anticipated and I left those companies, never to return.

Back in Tip #33, I mentioned that high pay is not reason enough to stay in a bad job. Well, nothing can make you dislike a job more quickly than working for a boss you despise.

Concept: When interviewing for a position, interview your perspective boss as hard as he (or she) is interviewing you. The pay may be great and the position fantastic, but a bad boss can negate all of that.

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerDetails: As should be clear by now, the boss sets the tone for the whole team dynamic. His level of effort, his desire to train and develop his direct reports, and his management style will in large part determine the working atmosphere along with the ultimate success of the team. Great co-workers are important and wonderful to have, but the boss’s personality will more likely determine whether you actually like your job.

Because the boss’s management style is so critical, it is imperative that you vet him/her thoroughly before accepting a job. Go out to lunch with the boss and other team members and see how they interact. Invite the boss to dinner with his/her spouse and watch how they treat their spouse and the wait staff. Is the team comfortable with the boss and does the conversation flow easily, or are they quiet? Does the boss mistreat his/her spouse or talk down to the restaurant staff? Is the boss decisive? Can he/she admit fault? Ask team members if there are any individuals who left the group. Is so, track them down and find out why they left. Take the time and make the effort to find out all you can about the boss because your level of job satisfaction will in no small measure be determined by this one person.

Watch-Outs: If you are touring the plant or office and the boss lies to other workers or team members, talks down to his direct reports or treats lower level company staff with disdain, moving on to other possibilities is probably the best course of action. The boss may be brilliantly successful and knowledgeable but working for a tyrant can be unbearable.

Exceptions: Some companies transfer “Hi-Po”s (High Potential Management Employees) from job to job every 12 months. If you get one assigned to your group and they are awful, it may just be easier to bite your tongue and wait them out.

Insight: A good boss can even make staying in a bad job worthwhile. The company may be struggling or the corporate politics ugly, but a good boss will somehow find a way to keep the team together and shield them from the fray. However if things get too bad, a good boss is one who encourages his direct reports to develop and grow their careers, even if that means leaving the group or the company.

Rule of Thumb: A bad boss should be a deal breaker of any job consideration. Interview the boss thoroughly and carefully before you accept any job.

 

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.
Why References Are Just the First Step in an Industrial Employee or Control Systems Evaluation

Why References Are Just the First Step in an Industrial Employee or Control Systems Evaluation

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 #37.

Over the course of my career, I have never been given a reference that provided anything but glowing reports and testimonials. Perhaps your experience will be different than mine, but the odds are slim. In every case each reference I contacted gushed ad infinitum about how wonderful the candidate was or how positively flawless the new product was, etc. From this you might conclude that it is a waste of time to even bother to contact the references, but this would be a bad assumption. Four candidates competing for one position.The real reason to contact the references is not to hear the glowing reports that you are bound to get – it is to get the names of the second tier of people who CAN give you an unbiased view of the person/product you are investigating.

Concept: Nobody (not interview candidates nor control system or equipment vendors) will offer a bad reference. (Of course if they DID offer a bad reference, that would make the selection process much easier!) However, you can use that contact to get names and leads on other people who might provide a more accurate assessment.

Details: References that are provided as part of any evaluation process are practically worthless. No interview candidate and/or company would be so foolish as to provide references who will mention anything but complimentary details. However, that list can provide a path to a more complete evaluation with a bit of investigative work. If you are checking an interview candidate’s references, ask for the names of co-workers, bosses, or other individuals who might have directed the employee or worked with them. If possible, contact these individuals and see what information they have to offer (or what other people they know). Keep in mind that most people will speak more openly in a face to face conversation than over the phone. They will also tell a lot more to an acquaintance than to someone they do not know. Take advantage of this and try to meet people face to face or ask around and find if “someone knows someone” who can access these people.

Evaluating a company or a product is easier. If you are evaluating a product (such as a control system), ask for a list of recently installed systems. If you are evaluating a company (such as an engineering firm or a system integrator) ask for a list of recent clients. In either case, use the initial list of contacts to work deeper into the organization and access a larger group who might not have been primed by the sales person. The initial contact will often be a manager or other high level administrator who is far removed from the day to day issues and is not aware of any problems. Even worse, the initial contact may have been responsible for selecting the company and/or product and is loath to admit any problems that might reflect poorly on their career. However, if you can get past that initial contact and get the names and contact information of other engineers, supervisors, and operators, you m101 Tips for a Successful Automation Careeray find a host of individuals who know a great deal and are more likely to share the pros and cons of the company or product being considered.

Watch-Outs: The human resources department is probably the LEAST suitable source for information about an interview candidate. When a human resources person identifies themselves on a phone call, the person on the other end usually clams up and will volunteer very little. Similarly, if a human resources person is asked about a particular candidate, they can offer very limited data or they risk making themselves the target of a lawsuit. Networking contacts (outside of human resources) will yield much more information.

Exceptions: An interview candidate is often currently working for a company and does not want that company to know they are job hunting. In this case it may not be possible to contact references at that company, much less get past them to dig deeper. One option is to ask for references and vet the employee’s work at a previous company (assuming they worked at another company before the one where they are employed today). Another option is to ask the candidate for the name of a trusted co-worker who might shed some light on the candidate’s qualifications without compromising the secret. Either way, the available information will be somewhat limited.

Insight: When you are evaluating a control system it is always best to go on site if at all possible. If the tour has been arranged by the vendor, they will likely try to limit contact to a few carefully chosen people. Ask for a control room tour and during this time have the evaluating team “fan out” to talk to technicians, operators, supervisors, etc. Ask them about the system and about any individuals who might know more about the system “behind the scenes.” These casual conversations and contacts with other people will provide the evaluation team a better picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the system in question.

Rule of Thumb: Never be satisfied with the reference provided. Treat it as a first step toward engaging a wider group of people who can actually provide a more realistic picture of the person/product/company being evaluated.

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.

How to Build Communications Skills as an Engineer

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 #40.

Consider the stereotype of the engineer. He (or she) is shy, socially inept, and rarely the life of the party. Understanding Fourier transforms and partial differential equations is no problem but standing in front of an audience and giving a presentation is a nearly insurmountable challenge. If he does give a talk he tends to mumble and look away from the audience when he speaks, puts WAY too much information in small type on his PowerPoint slides, and tends to read the slides to the audience as he drones on.making a speech

…sound a bit too familiar? –

Unfortunately, that description is close to the truth for many engineers, and often a more technically qualified engineer has been passed over for a promotion by a candidate with less experience and knowledge but with better communication and presentation skills.

As a high school student I realized I was headed down this road. My math scores were excellent but my English/verbal scores were at best mediocre. I was struggling in a writing class where the instructor held me to a much higher standard because he KNEW I was capable of it – but I was not delivering. I finally decided it was time to address the problem, knowing it would only worsen with time. I sought help with writing and joined the speech and debate team, where I signed up for extemporaneous speaking. (You pick a topic out of a jar then have 15 or 20 minutes to prepare and deliver a five minute speech.) It forced me to organize my ideas and think quickly on my feet – useful skills, to be sure.

Later in life I took courses on media presentation as part of my Hazmat team training as well as a few sales presentation classes. Such training has been invaluable to me over the years.

Concept: A knowledgeable engineer is worth a great deal to a company. However, a knowledgeable engineer who can write and present is worth much, much more!

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerDetails: The average engineering-bound high school student has a profoundly skewed math/verbal aptitude ratio. Math and science classes are no problem but most engineering-bound students struggle in English and communication. Unfortunately, this inability to communicate will hamstring them throughout their career. People will steal their ideas because they cannot sell them to upper management. Many will lose promotions to less technically qualified applicants because the other candidates speak and “show” well. Opportunities for exposure to upper management will be lost because they look so uncomfortable in presentations. However, a highly qualified engineer who can also write and present is a rare thing indeed. The combination of strong technical talent and excellent communication skills is extremely valuable in most organizations.

If you are still in school, do not shy away from writing and speaking courses – TAKE THEM. If you are already in the work force, take a few writing and presentation courses and sign up to give a technical presentation at your local technical society meeting or national conference. Seek opportunities to write or present on the job.

If you are scheduled to present, take the time to practice and more important, record your practice talk on video. It may be painful at first to watch yourself speaking but you cannot fix a problem until you experience it first-hand.

Watch-Outs: Engineers often assume that their audience has the same level of technical knowledge as they do and is as excited about the subject as they are. However, both assumptions are usually false. Some, or perhaps many, in the audience do not know all of the technical background and will get lost quickly. Combine that with a poorly presented or dull topic and the snoring can be intense. Take the time to quickly explain the technical background concepts well enough to ensure that everyone is on the same level, then proceed with the new information. Most importantly, make the slides INTERESTING!

Do not use dull PowerPoint slides with tiny fonts, no graphics, and line after line of bulleted items. Instead, use interesting pictures, simple phrases, and large, easy-to-read fonts to excite the audience and entice them to listen to you.

Exceptions: If you already have your own TV or radio talk show, then you are probably exempt from having to pursue this tip further.

Insight: When you are giving a technical presentation, it may be worth taking the time to create two versions of the slides. Make up a set showing all of the technical points and details and provide that version to the audience as a handout, then create a second set that has the major talking points but is much more visually appealing, with fewer words and lots of pictures and/or graphics. The audience will appreciate and enjoy the presentation (which will be refreshingly different than MOST of the presentations they have seen) and they will have the technical handout for reference and notes.

Rule of Thumb: Many engineers are not naturally adept at writing and/or presentations, and they pay a price for that failing throughout their career. Like anything else worth doing, good writing and presentation skills take training and practice but the effort WILL be rewarded.

 

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.
Consider Intangible Costs When Calculating an Industrial Project

Consider Intangible Costs When Calculating an Industrial Project

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 #42.

If you are the optimistic sort who always sees the good in your fellow man and always takes people and companies at their word – skip to Tip #43 and save yourself the angst. However, if you are like most engineers and tend to be a bit more skeptical and jaded, then this tip is for you.Profit

Political correctness has never been my strong suit and for better or worse I call things as I see them. If I spot a gorilla in the room, I am usually the first to point it out so that everyone can quickly get past that distraction and work to address the issue at hand. I firmly believe that you cannot begin to resolve a problem until everyone agrees that a problem exists.

In that spirit let me introduce this tip…

Concept: While nearly every company trumpets people, safety, and environment as a higher priority than profitability, the fact is that MOST corporate decisions are driven by the bottom line.

Details: This concept flies in the face of practically every corporate sales and marketing campaign in existence. Their advertisements would have us believe that chemical companies champion the environment above all else, that the core value of pharmaceutical firms is the elimination of human suffering, and that all companies consider their employees to be their number one resource. This is all wonderful and fine, except that it is rarely true.

All companies champion money. They have to. No company can continue to operate while constantly losing money. Short-term revenue-negative decisions may be made, but ultimately the company must make a profit if it is to survive. All things being equal, a company will act to improve its profit.

So are safety and the environment REALLY a priority? Yes, because injuring people and getting caught dumping hazardous chemicals can be expensive. (BP certainly discovered this in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010!) However, if a company can cut corners, bypass safety interlocks, and modify procedures to get a unit in production quicker and the risk is deemed acceptable, then there is every likelihood that that is exactly what will happen. (BP and their affiliated companies are being accused of those very activities in the courts today.) So what is the point of this tip (other than to depress people)?

If you as an engineer understand this dynamic, you can use it to encourage the company to do the right thing if only because it makes financial sense. If the company is flouting (that is, willfully disregarding) a safety procedure or bending an environmental regulation, calling attention to it may fall on deaf ears. However, if you can quantify the financial loss of spilled product or lost production due to an EPA restraining order, suddenly the issue has significant financial ramifications and may be treated differently. Similarly, it may benefit the production numbers to allow a waste stream to be generated even if the environment is impacted. However, if the actual cost of the waste stream can be quantified and highlighted, it may behoove the company to reconsider their position. (See next tip for details.) In short, when you are faced with a situation where your company is acting in ways it should not, pull together a complete list of reasons to stop that activity before you approach management. Your list should include safety reasons, environmental reasons, and most importantly, financial reasons. With such a list, your odds of redirecting the company’s actions will be greatly enhanced.

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Watch-Outs: If your company seriously flouts a safety or environmental regulation and people’s lives are at stake, call immediate attention to it regardless of the financial impact. Start with your direct supervisor and if you are ignored, inform him or her that you are going to the next level and immediately do it. If you get no satisfaction at that level, continue until the issue has been resolved. Exhaust all levels within the company before turning to outside entities (such as the police, OSHA, EPA, etc.) Doing the right thing is not easy but living with the deaths of a couple of co-workers because you failed to act is not a walk in the park either.

Exceptions: Occasionally a company REALLY WILL do the right thing regardless of the cost. This is great to see and it is certainly a company worth working for. Unfortunately, this seems to happen much too infrequently, especially during hard economic times. People usually start off meaning well but the pressure to improve the bottom line tends to eliminate this type of behavior over time.

Insight: When calculating the cost of a project, a decision, or some other activity, do not fail to consider the intangible costs. Spilled chemicals may not cost the company much from a raw material perspective, but having a TV reporter broadcast the fact on national news certainly IS expensive. Similarly, eliminating a waste stream may not save much money in material costs, but if the waste reduction drops the company significantly lower on the EPA’s list of top polluters, the idea may seem much more attractive. Take the time to look at the bigger picture and determine other benefits that the company may not have considered.

Rule of Thumb: Follow the money. Historically, it has been an excellent predictor of corporate behavior.

 

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.

Why You Should Avoid Scripted Control System Demonstrations

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 #38.

We have all been there. The sales person stands before the crowd demonstrating a control system. He clicks here and lays down a pump, he clicks there and adds a control valve, he opens this window and everything magically links and is fully functional. The system is a flawless masterpiece. Nothing can go wrong … go wrong … go wrong … Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand scripted demonstrations. They are like the references  discussed in Tip # 37 – the demonstration will always be flawless. I want to see what happens when I throw the system a curve!Verify

My favorite war story about this particular subject happened in the late 1990s. I was on a team evaluating two brands of expensive simulation software that was to be used for modeling and optimizing our large continuous plants. The plant manager was friendly with one of the salesmen and let it be known which product we were to choose. However, the team quickly realized that the product he had selected was far inferior to the other option. Given the manager’s personality, there was little chance that the team’s opinion would be allowed to override his own. The team arranged for each company to give a presentation of their product. The company favored by the team presented first. The product worked well and was quite adaptable.

The sales person did not follow a script, but asked for ideas from the audience and built a process model before the whole group. The plant manager’s favorite company gave its presentation a few days later. The salesman knew that the previous presentation had gone well so he chose to use a recently released beta version of his product, which had a slick graphics package and lots of bells and whistles. During his demonstration he clearly followed a script … adding a specific column type here, a certain pump there, etc. I let him continue for about a half hour – leading us down a path that had been carefully choreographed to avoid any problems.

Then I raised my hand and asked an innocent question – something about the system’s ability to handle a different configuration. Perhaps the column had a recycle stream coming in one-third of the way down the column or used a different control philosophy than the one he had chosen. “Of course,” he answered, “you would just add those elements to the model.”

“Great,” I responded. “Do you mind showing us?”

He blanched but had no choice. Three mouse clicks later the system sputtered and blue screened. At that point the salesman had to admit that everything he had shown us was a beta version of software that was not fully tested. Needless to say the team selected the other product and the plant manager had no option but to back the team’s decision.

Concept: Like the references in the previous tip, scripted demonstrations are practically worthless. Let them get started and then start asking questions that force the sales person to depart from the script. If the system is good, it will easily handle the diversion and perform well. If the system is designed poorly, it will quickly become clear.

101 Tips for a Successful Automation CareerDetails: Regardless of the product being demonstrated, most sales people like to follow a well-choreographed, thoroughly tested script. The risk is low and the script has been specifically designed to highlight the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of the particular product. The sales person’s job is to make sure everything goes to plan. However, the audience members WANT to know the product’s weaknesses and flaws. They have a vested interest in forcing that demonstration off its script so that a more complete evaluation is possible. When attending a demonstration, the audience must recognize that the demo is scripted and take pains to force the sales person in a new direction.

Recognizing a scripted pattern is usually easy. The sales person appears to be following a predefined sequence and is not eager to deviate from the path. He or she might even be referring to notes as they proceed. In such cases, ask about a different feature and then ask how easy that feature is to implement. Once the sales person answers, it should not be much of a problem for him or her to DEMONSTRATE the feature to the crowd. At this point the sales person is trapped, and must acquiesce or start providing reasons why they cannot.

If possible, ask for an opportunity to “drive” the system and take part in the demonstration rather than simply watching it. Now you are in control and can easily go down different paths and try different features to better evaluate the system’s strengths and weaknesses. If the system is good then it should have no problems handling whatever you ask it to do.

Watch-Outs: Sometimes a presentation is being made in front of a large group of diverse customers and your question is not of interest to most of the people in the room. Rather than taking up everyone’s time chasing a side issue, take it up with the sales person on an individual basis after the demonstration is finished.

Exceptions: Occasionally a product is so bad or the sales person is so nervous that the scripted presentation is all they can do. In such a case, there is nothing gained by embarrassing the person any further by forcing them off the script. Just recognize the situation for what it is and move on.

Insight: This same idea applies to factory acceptance tests. Do not let the integrator take the system through a scripted test sequence to prove its functionality. Instead, intentionally close the wrong valve or press the wrong button. Force the system off the beaten path. It is certain that the operators will do that eventually and it is far better to discover problems before the system is on line! If possible, require that the integrator be completely hands off during testing to prevent them from nudging the system along during testing.

Rule of Thumb: A well-designed system should be able to handle whatever is thrown at it, especially the “non-standard” situations. Every now and again step off the beaten path, throw the system a curve, and see what transpires.

Hunter VegasAbout the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. His job titles have included instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he joined Avid Solutions, Inc., as an engineering manager and lead project engineer, where he works today. Vegas has executed nearly 2,000 instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms.

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