Career Advice for Someone Beginning an Engineering Education

This is an excerpt from the January/February 2013 issue of InTech magazine by Bill R. Hollifield, an industry veteran, ISA committee member and author of books on alarm management and HMI. To read the full article, please see the link at the bottom of this post.

I have had a typical 37-year engineering career that I have thoroughly enjoyed, split between project engineering, production, production management, and consulting. I was recently asked for some general advice, from a nephew beginning an engineering education. Here is my reply:

Engineering is a wonderful career if you have a technical mindset. Consider your engineering degree as a “hunting license.” Much of your Career Directioncollege coursework will not be relevant to the actual work you will do. For example, since 1975, I have used calculus one time! Unless you go into an area such as process design, your career will rely much more on problem-solving techniques than on complex and obscure calculation and analytical methodologies. Those knowledge areas have already become inexpensive programs that can be purchased.

But you should become very, very good with computers. Consider computer science as a minor or take electives in it. When I graduated, there was no such thing as a personal computer. I learned everything about them on my own and helped introduce them as useful tools into my company’s engineering department. It sounds silly now, but at the time, there was considerable resistance by the “elderly managers.” Everything you do will be computer-related. Take some programming courses in widely-used, useful computer languages. But do not go too far; the country is full of laid-off I.T. professionals that cannot find work. Computers should be something you know a lot about and use expertly, but not the focus of your career.

The technical knowledge that is the focus of your education is all well and good. But once you get the degree, your career success will not primarily be based on your technical expertise. It will be mainly based on your ability to work with others. For most engineers, that is not a very strong suit. (Ask me how I know!) You can be the finest technical expert there is, but if people do not want to work with you, you will go nowhere. Be the person of whom people say, “I want him on the new project team.”

It is very important to your career for you to be able to communicate – particularly to be able to talk to a group, to be relaxed, to be authoritative, and to be engaging. That is probably more important to your career than your technical knowledge.

To read the full article on improving critical infrastructure protection, click here.

About the Author
Bill R. HollifieldBill R. Hollifield, PAS principal alarm management and HMI consultant, is an industry veteran, ISA committee member and author of books on alarm management and HMI.
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Are you qualified?

Are you qualified?

This post is authored by Peggie Koon, president of ISA 2014.

This week hundreds of educators and professionals from government and public and private industry sectors converged on Washington, DC to attend the US News STEM Solutions National Conference. The sessions covered an array of topics related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); I had the honor of participating on a panel entitled “Customized Credentials Come of Age.”Qualified or unqualified.

After a brief introduction by Dr. Barbara Endel, Program Director for Jobs of the Future, I listened attentively as Dr. Cathy Sandeen, VP of Education, Attainment, and Innovation at ACE (the American Council on Education) presented the numbers, confirming that 30 million people in the US have sub-BA (bachelor of arts) credentials.  30 million!  That’s a large number of folks.

Cathy made the case for the need to bridge the gap in the credentialing process so students know how credentials stack up against a traditional four-year degree program; educators at local universities and technical colleges understand how to merge sub-BA credentials with traditional collegiate course work; and employers can gauge competency/proficiency/skill level using all of the credentials a student might possess. (Note: Later during my trip to DC, Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation described this issue in a discussion of linear versus non-linear paths for STEM degrees.) Credentialing and competency in STEM education and STEM careers were a huge part of the “buzz” at the National Academy of Engineering’s Annual Convocation of Professional Engineering Societies (at which ISA was invited to participate).

The Automation Federation worked with industry experts and representatives from the Department of Labor to develop the Automation Competency Model, a formal federal guideline that outlines the skills and competencies needed to succeed in the automation field. (click the image to zoom a larger view)

The Automation Federation worked with industry experts and representatives from the Department of Labor to develop the Automation Competency Model, a formal federal guideline that outlines the skills and competencies needed to succeed in the automation field. (click the image to zoom a larger view)

The presentation on credential gaps flowed nicely into a hearty discussion of badges. Dr. Kyle Bowen, Director of Education Technology at Penn State University, explained how badges allow students to maintain digital portfolios that include work experience, education, certificates, certifications, etc.  Badges, in effect, allow a student to own and maintain a complete digital profile of both institutional and experiential learning so employers know immediately if she or he (as an applicant) has the specific competency required for a job. Kyle also discussed the need to define standards so employers have levels of confidence that the applicant has specific competency in the areas for which a badge is received.

When it was my turn to speak, I began with the question: “How many of you have heard of ISA?” The audience was silent. An estimated 50 people sat in the room to discuss credentials and not one of them had heard of ISA. Furthermore, even after I explained ISA’s role in providing workforce development/training, professional development, and certificates, as well as certification programs for automation professionals, there were many blank faces in the room. The audience appeared to connect with me more as I related that ISA, in conjunction with the US Department of Labor and industry experts, has developed an Automation Competency Model. The model defines requirements for all levels of the automation profession, helping employers better understand what skills they should look for in an applicant.

And students can refer to the model to determine which courses/certificates/certification programs are required for different automation fields/positions. And, finally, colleges and technical institutes can also use the model to build competency-based curricula.

Someone in the audience asked if there were any K-12 schools with competency model-based curricula? ISA’s collaborative effort with Project Lead the Way in the schools in Raleigh and Pennsylvania immediately came to mind.  I also mentioned that programs like FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and Goldie Blox, supported by entrepreneurs, augment the traditional school system curricula while getting students excited and raising awareness of the importance of STEM education and project/competency-based learning.

Finally, I listed five “game changers” that are impacting STEM solutions and the automation profession.  The game changers listed were:

Big Data – More than ever before, companies today are relying on big data analytics to make strategic decisions, creating a demand for STEM careers related to the effort.

Coolest Delivery − The next generation of STEM and automation professionals is techno savvy and technology enabled – a group that will expect STEM projects (content, data, and tools) to be available via the coolest delivery/technology available. Without the “cool factor,” the disparity that exists between the demand for STEM careers and the supply of STEM professionals will continue to expand.

Cybersecurity – The cyber threat is real and there is a concomitant requirement for STEM professionals in cybersecurity – people who understand how to mitigate and respond to the threat both in traditional IT and from the emerging operational technology (OT) perspectives that are affecting our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Aging Workforce  – The current STEM workforce is aging.  Many of the nation’s critical STEM jobs are filled by folks who are nearing retirement. There is a skills gap between retirees and those who are entering the STEM career workforce, creating a significant need for workforce development in this area.

MOOC and other new credentialing programs – In addition, I talked about the impact of massively open online courses (MOOC) and other emerging credentials and badges. These innovations will change the way students choose to learn and will trigger changes in college curricula and requirements for STEM and automation degrees. And these new innovative credentialing systems will challenge the way employers define “qualifications” for STEM jobs.

This last game-changing theme about credentialing made me feel that ISA should become more engaged in this conversation – to better understand and to be able to adequately respond to the changes that are occurring in this space.

The conversation that followed the panel discussion confirmed my feelings. You see, I heard over and over again folks talking about how difficult it is to properly convey a person’s work experience, his/her collegiate degree/coursework, plus certificates, licenses, certifications, and/or any badges to determine appropriate paths for continuing STEM education and acquiring STEM careers.

What if every STEM career and STEM field had a competency model? Would that help solve the problem? Or would it create a new set of problems? At the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) Board Meeting, Jerry Carter, CEO of the National Council for Examiners of Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) shared that he, Cathy Leslie, CEO of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), and Mike Marlowe, Managing Director of the Automation Federation, recently visited with a team at the Employment and Training Agency (ETA) of the Department of Labor to discuss a project to develop an engineering competency model.

It’s anticipated that this will be a year-long project, but Jerry told the AAES Board that he thinks “this competency model will be a tool that will be useful to all of our organizations.” Jerry credited ISA with having made him aware of the model. Once the engineering competency model is developed, all of the engineering societies will be able to follow ISA’s lead and use it as a template for more targeted competency models − so engineers will know if they are qualified-for their respective areas of engineering.

This effort is not just relegated to engineering societies, but is extended to community colleges and universities as well. ISA and the Automation Federation are working with Cleveland Community College (CCC) and the government to develop Mission Critical Operations training programs that encompass STEM education for those who support mission critical operations of a company, including industrial/operational and information technology.  This government funded program will be piloted at CCC, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and other colleges to develop a template/competency model for this type of STEM education at technical, community, and four-year colleges across America.

What should be the response from academia? Should the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) look at developing competency based-degrees that encompass both applied/experiential learning and specific course work?

How early in the learning/development process should project/competency-based learning occur?

If badges are adopted, how would badges be verified and standardized?

What else might industry, government, entrepreneurs, and professional organizations partner to address this very important issue?

Advocacy, Innovation, Partnership, Competency Models

The STEM problem in the US is a complex, multi-faceted issue, one that can only be solved by a very concerted and congruent effort from the four pillars of our nation − education, government, industry, and the private sector (entrepreneurs). And there are so many questions related to STEM. Those listed above are just a few.

“There is far more opportunity than ability.” ————-Thomas Edison

After listening to the various speakers at the convocation and those at the United Engineering Foundation’s (UEF) Engineering Public Policy Symposium, I am very hopeful about the future of STEM education and STEM careers. Significant advances have been made in Shale gas using new micro seismic and geo thermal technologies. Are there specific courses or certification programs to be developed for perhaps a new set of STEM careers that will evolve from innovations in shale gas and unconventional energy resources?

The discussions about the manufacturing renaissance, the “Maker initiative,” and cool new innovations in manufacturing, such as 3D printing, provide new avenues for entrepreneurs to engage and to promote innovation.  Who will develop standards for the products made by these new STEM entrepreneurs? And if grants are given for these new “manufacturing” hubs, how will applicants “qualify”?

What will competency look like tomorrow, next year, five years from now?

Are you qualified?

About the Author
Peggie Koon_2Peggie Koon, Ph.D., is vice president of audience at Chronicle Media and The Augusta Chronicle, which are part of Morris Publishing Group, LLC, a privately held media company based in Augusta, Ga. Prior to joining Morris, Peggie spent more than 25 years developing IT systems for process automation and process control in a variety of industries, including automotive, nuclear defense, aerospace, nuclear reprocessing, thermal ceramics and textiles. Peggie assumed her first ISA leadership position in 1996 as membership chair of the Management Division and has held a variety of prominent leadership roles in the Society. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and completed graduate studies in industrial and systems engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received a doctorate in management information systems from Kennedy Western University in Cheyenne, Wyo.

A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.

Get involved in promoting STEM education

Get involved in promoting STEM education

This post is authored by Peggie Koon, president of ISA 2014.

In last month’s ISA Insights article I mentioned I will complete a series of articles reviewing the 10 trends impacting ISA. Last month we looked at Cybersecurity and this month we’ll take a closer look at the STEM education initiative. Virtually all ISA members and automation professionals have benefited from their education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Even so, are you doing enough to promote interest in and the importance of STEM education and STEM careers? After all, STEM education is essential to cultivating a new generation of automation Promoting STEM educationprofessionals and to encouraging greater worldwide discovery and innovation.

This month’s article begins with a definition of STEM education. I’ll then share how STEM education shaped my life and career. Next, we’ll highlight what ISA, AF and others are doing to promote this important initiative. And finally, we’ll look at how you can help serve in support of the effort.

What is STEM education?  In the article “Why STEM education is important,” Francis Eberle, Ph. D., as executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, wrote: “We define STEM education as the preparation of students in competencies and skills in the four disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math).  A successful STEM education provides students with science, math, and engineering/technology in sequences that build upon each other and can be used with real-world applications.”

How did a STEM education shape my life and career?  My family is rooted in science and mathematics. There were 10 of us and about half were liberal arts majors and the other half concentrated on math and science. From physics, to pure mathematics, to electrical engineering and chemical engineering, we loved math and the sciences, excelled in the disciplines, and were fortunate enough to have attended schools with excellent teachers and a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math.

In addition, our teachers and counselors found programs to augment our curriculum—to help enhance our excitement and interest. For instance, my older brother’s chemistry teacher enrolled him and a group of his classmates in a summer physics program at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. He pursued a career in physics, obtaining a double degree in physics and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a doctorate degree in high energy nuclear physics from Princeton.

As a rising senior in high school I attended the National Science Foundation’s summer science training program (SSTP) a special program at LSU for juniors in high schools across the nation who were “gifted” in the sciences. The same woman who encouraged my brother—my high school chemistry teacher—was responsible for making our class aware of the program.  She facilitated the required testing and helped us submit our applications so we would have a chance to participate. She had a very positive impact on my future educational and career choices. I majored in mathematics as an undergraduate, studied industrial and systems engineering in graduate school, and received my doctorate degree in management information systems or IT systems.

The teacher, Mrs. Otwell, was a subject matter expert (SME) who knew and loved chemistry, math, and physics.  She shared her knowledge and love of the disciplines in such a powerful practical way that it was contagious!  All of us who were fortunate enough to come through her classroom loved chemistry, math, and the sciences, too; and because of her efforts we understood the importance of science and math to our society and our nation.  As I have traveled and interacted with peers in ISA and other educational and professional organizations I hear the same sorts of stories about their experiences…their curriculums, teachers, and their levels of engagement in promoting STEM.

Our STEM education experiences corroborate President Obama’s statement: “The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Why is STEM education important?  According to Dr. Eberle: “STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators. Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy. This innovation and science literacy depends on a solid knowledge base in the STEM areas. It is clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. Ten-year employment projections by the US Department of Labor show that of the 20 fastest-growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation.”

The chart below from the US Department of Education website (www.ed.gov/stem) confirms Dr. Eberle’s employment projections:

Projected Percentage Increases STEM JobsEberle says “it is imperative that as a nation, we make STEM education a top priority. We have a lot of work to do.”

According to the www.ed.gov/stem site, “Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. The US is falling behind internationally, ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations. In our competitive global economy, this situation is unacceptable”.

What are ISA and the Automation Federation doing to support STEM education initiatives?  ISA and its umbrella organization, the Automation Federation, have been involved in STEM education and other workforce development initiatives for many years. In his article, “Carpe diem America”, Todd Lucey, as general manager of Endress+Hauser Sales Center USA, wrote: “The cradle-to-grave approach, led by the Automation Federation’s Workforce Development plan, stresses the importance of strengthening STEM. Working toward the same goal, we can join the efforts headed by Project Lead the Way—a provider of STEM education curricular programs used in middle and high schools across the US—to create a greater awareness of STEM-related careers in the field of automation.”

The AF works to advance the science and engineering of automation technologies, promote the automation profession, and develop the education and training programs that will prepare and inspire a new generation of automation professionals. The AF is an active participant in a growing national movement—involving leaders in government, education and private industry—focused on increasing students’ interest and skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within America’s educational system.”  Read the full article: https://www.isa.org/content/news-and-press-releases/press-releases/2012/november/automation-federation-collaborates-with-williamsport-area-high-school-pennsylvania-strengthen-automation-controls-curriculum/

One of the messages AF spreads on behalf of its member organizations is the importance of the automation profession and the need to develop the next generation of automation professionals. To build momentum and support for its workforce development initiatives—including the promotion of STEM education and the Automation Competency Model—AF is working to bring like-minded organizations together to create a stronger “voice.”

In March 2009, the Automation Federation also worked with the Piedmont Triad Partnership in organizing the first Technology Career Days event for high school students in the 12 counties comprising the Piedmont Triad region in North Carolina. Hundreds of high school students from 16 high schools visited 35 exhibits that highlighted automation and technology and provided hands-on learning activities. The students had the opportunity to discuss design, manufacturing, and logistics careers in fields from product design to automation to transportation.

In 2012, ISA and the AF partnered with Project Lead the Way in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to develop an automation course at Williamsport High school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and at the Riverside High school in Durham, NC.

Furthermore, both ISA and the Automation Federation are also actively involved in FIRST®, an acronym which means “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology.” Founded in 1989, FIRST focuses on helping young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology. FIRST’s vision is to: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” Since 2010, the Automation Federation and ISA have enjoyed a global strategic alliance with FIRST to promote the importance of STEM in K-12 education. Learn more at: http://www.usfirst.org/aboutus/press-room/first-automation-federation-and-the-international-society-of-automation-announce-strategic-allianc

What else might ISA do? During the recently held ISA Executive Summit, Society leaders identified cradle-to-grave advocacy of the automation profession as one of ISA’s five strategic goals. This means ISA will continue to work with AF organizations, government, educational institutions, and private industry to promote STEM education and to develop workforce training and professional development programs that support STEM careers.

What else is happening in STEM education across the US?  President Obama has challenged governors, philanthropists, scientists, engineers, educators, and the private sector to join with him in a national campaign to find innovative new ways to recruit, train, reward, and retain teachers. The challenge resulted in a number of STEM education programs funded by states and private industry. Programs like GoldieBlox (www.goldieblox.com), Engineer Girl (www.engineergirl.org), and STEMspire (www.stemspire.com) are specifically targeted at STEM education for girls and women.

How do we make STEM education personal?  How can you help?  We need only follow the example of ISA Executive Director and CEO Pat Gouhin to learn how to become personally engaged in support of STEM education.  Pat was vocal in encouraging ISA members and other automation professionals to recognize 2014 Engineers Week through outreach and volunteerism.  And just a few weeks ago, Pat got personally involved at the FIRST Robotics Competition in Raleigh, NC. Pat volunteered his time—not just as an ISA leader, but as an automation professional, a parent, and a citizen concerned about our nation’s STEM education deficiency—to serve FIRST. Read Pat’s inspiring story of volunteering at this STEM event at automation.isa.org: https://automation.isa.org/2014/03/inspire-the-next-generation-of-leaders-by-volunteering-for-first/

Next month, I will serve on a panel entitled “Customized Credentials Come of Age, at the US News Stem Solutions National Leadership Conference,” where we will “examine some of the standout credentials that employers value—and which lead to STEM jobs—as well as what’s necessary to engage more students and young professionals in these pathways.” Get more details on the conference at: http://usnewsstemsolutions.com/conference

You can serve the STEM education initiative, too, by:

  • Speaking at a classroom or after-school group
  • Bringing students to your workplace or campus
  • Spreading the need for STEM education and automation careers to colleagues
  • Hosting a public event
  • Publicizing your plans on the ISA blog or website
  • Introducing your child’s school to FIRST or supporting GoldieBlox toys for the little girls in your life
  • Getting the word out through social media on LinkedIn, FB, or Twitter

There’s no better time than right now to get involved!

 

About the Author
Peggie Koon_2Peggie Koon, Ph.D., is vice president of audience at Chronicle Media and The Augusta Chronicle, which are part of Morris Publishing Group, LLC, a privately held media company based in Augusta, Ga. Prior to joining Morris, Peggie spent more than 25 years developing IT systems for process automation and process control in a variety of industries, including automotive, nuclear defense, aerospace, nuclear reprocessing, thermal ceramics and textiles. Peggie assumed her first ISA leadership position in 1996 as membership chair of the Management Division and has held a variety of prominent leadership roles in the Society. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and completed graduate studies in industrial and systems engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received a doctorate in management information systems from Kennedy Western University in Cheyenne, Wyo.

A version of this article also has been published in ISA Insights.

Technical Expertise Across Multiple Platforms: What the Auto Dealership Taught Me the Hard Way

Technical Expertise Across Multiple Platforms: What the Auto Dealership Taught Me the Hard Way

This guest post is authored by Chad Harper, senior director of technology at MAVERICK Technologies.

Several years ago, my family owned a Honda and a Chevy.  When we initially bought our cars, we took them to the respective dealers for routine maintenance and service.  It seemed like the obvious thing to do in this era of high-tech automobiles, since they should know their cars best.  However, after a while I began to feel like the customer service was not the best and the prices were ever increasing.  At one point one of them insisted on several hundred dollars of repairs that I knew I didn’t need, and that was the last straw.Auto Shop

I began testing several independent service shops near my home, and one in particular stood out.  They had certified technicians to handle all major brands and models, and it was clear that they could handle these tech-loaded autos.  The service was friendly and convenient, the prices were reasonable, and thus began my long patronage of this shop.

Over the years, I’ve religiously used them for all repairs and service.  An oil change costs a few bucks more than the quick lube, but when larger repair issues arise, they are always correct in their assessment, take me out to show me the problem, and have often suggested fixes that wouldn’t necessarily bring them the most money.  In short, they are honest and good at what they do, which is something we all look for in a business/customer relationship.

When I sold my Chevy and bought a Mazda, I didn’t have to hope that the Mazda dealer’s service department would treat me right.  I had my own independent service shop that could handle whatever automobiles I happen to own at the time.

Today, many of our manufacturing plants and mills have a variety of control systems, including DCS, PLCs, safety systems, etc.  With plant engineering resources busier than ever, it may not make sense to go back to the dealer with each of these systems.  It may be time to consider an independent, platform-agnostic partner to support your various needs within the plant.

As control systems continue to evolve, there is a lot of commonality between the platforms.  We’ve found it surprisingly easy to cross-train experts in one platform on another platform.  These “multi-lingual” engineers are invaluable at solving complex control and communication problems that exist.  Along with dedicated technology experts, these multi-platform engineers provide the flexibility and support that facilities need.

In addition, having a provider that knows all aspects of the control systems, from hardware, networking, basic configuration, APC, all the way up to your ERP system, provides you with someone who is looking at all the pieces of the puzzle, and understands that the sum of all the parts is much greater than the pieces.

Finally, just as car dealers push the latest add-ons, rust-proofing, extended warranties, and other high profit items, control system vendors often have similar agendas, looking to sell high-profit licenses, add-ons, and other peripherals.  By nature, independent auto service shops, and similarly independent automation companies, can provide an objective assessment on the value of those extras, and will be more likely to tell you what you don’t need as well as what is best for you.

If you are the type of person that realizes that independent car service shops can often be an ideal partner compared to the dealer shop, then consider this approach with your control systems as well.

Chad Harper

About the Author
Chad Harper serves as the leader of MAVERICK’s Technology Group which provides content for training programs, reuse strategies, and ensures quality on projects on those platforms. He previously served as the operations manager for MAVERICK’s Automation Solutions — South Region, working out of the Baton Rouge, La., office. Chad joined MAVERICK in 2007 as an APC engineer when the company acquired C. F. Picou Associates, where he had worked for more than a decade.
The Molecule: Why Professionals Matter Over Equipment

The Molecule: Why Professionals Matter Over Equipment

This guest post is authored by Bill Stewart, vice president of corporate planning and strategy at MAVERICK Technologies.

At the end of the day, a process automation project is measured by how it delivered the unit of production – or in many processes, the “molecule” – to the client. I know, we hang our hat on a lot of other metrics, such as improved asset utilization, better selectivity, increased Control Roomthroughput, higher quality, less waste and whether our neighbors can live around us. But all of those have to do with the molecule. Corporations put a lot of money, time and effort into dressing up their molecule so their neighbors know they’re safe, Wall Street knows they can deliver, and clients understand that the uniqueness of their chemistry and patents are filed and protected. It is, like I said, about the molecule.

In a typical capital project, there’s a lot of planning on what to deliver, where to build the facility and how to design it, not to mention a myriad of other engineering, marketing and EH&S issues and studies. On large projects, design build is typically done using a large EPC; the OEMs provide the process control equipment and operating systems; and engineering companies, like MAVERICK, partner to complete the process automation engineering. This last portion of a typical CAPEX project is less than 10 percent, yet it’s the most critical component and deliverable. With all the shiny new equipment in place, the new control room contains the latest flavor of equipment graphics and interfaces. And when the time comes to press the button and start the plant, there’s great excitement and anticipation!

When the process automation solution is developed by professionals who understand the process and process automation, there’s very little angst over the results. When the process automation solution is developed with tools instead of experienced, intelligent people, you have a right to worry. Tools and IT solutions are no replacement for minds like these. They’re just tools that solve for part of the solution. The molecule does not care if the dollars per unit of measurement – I/O, CPU, etc. – are low or high. Leave that for folks in charge of the numbers and budgets. What does matter to the molecule is safe manufacturing that meets production and quality needs – that comes to life through engineering enabled by process knowledge.

In the U.S., universities graduate less than 7,000 chemical engineers a year, and the demand outstrips the supply. This creates pressure to find “better” or “different” ways to deliver the molecule, hence the focus on offshoring, high-value engineering centers and other names that describe IT tools-focused solutions. The molecule is not impressed. It will start in one form as a physical state, travel through the process designed by process engineers, in equipment obtained from certified suppliers, using algorithms run by the OEM software, using their hardware, until it leaves the process as the desired molecule, and is shipped to a client or transported via a pipeline downstream as a derivative. Along the way, it is shaped by physics and chemical principles and not by the color of the OEM equipment or the corporate signatures on agreements to support one another. In the end, it is the process automation engineer who knows and understands the process, and who knows how to use the tools that make up the control platform, who makes the difference and delivers the molecule.

This CAPEX project paradigm needs new thought around it and new ownership in the process automation space. Engineering companies like MAVERICK are better placed early in the EPC process. They focus not on tools but on process automation solutions – the solutions that deliver the molecule.

Bill Stewart

About the Author
Bill Stewart is the vice president, corporate planning and strategy at MAVERICK Technologies. He also directs and manages MAVERICK’s Business Development Group and is the global industry business leader for MAVERICK’s chemical and oil & gas business segments. He concentrates on the strategic value proposition for each client and on partnering for success to meet short-term tactical and long-term strategic goals. Bill joined MAVERICK in 2009 after working nearly 35 years in process automation at The Dow Chemical Company as a people, technical and global leader.
FIRST Championship demonstrates young people’s passion for science and technology learning

FIRST Championship demonstrates young people’s passion for science and technology learning

This post is authored by Terrence G. Ives, President of ISA 2013.

If recent events in St. Louis, Mo., are any indication of the future of automation, then prospects are indeed bright.

During the FIRST Robotics Competition, high school students worked in teams to design, build, program, test and fine tune their robots to meet the challenges of competition.

During the FIRST Robotics Competition, high school students worked in teams to design, build, program, test and fine tune their robots to meet the challenges of competition.

More than 10,000 students from around the globe, from ages 6 to 18, gathered April 24-27 at the Edward Jones Dome to put their engineering skills and scientific know-how to the test at the annual FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship. This year’s event, which included three different age-specific, team-oriented programs, drew nearly 650 student teams from 37 countries around the world, and attracted more than 2,800 mentors, coaches and adult supporters, and over 750 event volunteers.

One of the highlights of the three-day event was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which combined the excitement of sport with the rigors of designing and building robots. The competition provides students, from grades 9 through 12, with the opportunity to use sophisticated software and hardware, learn from professional engineers, collaborate, earn recognition, and qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships. This year, more than 2,500 teams in 17 countries participated in 77 FRC regional and district competitions.

As Strategic Alliance Partners of FIRST, ISA and the Automation Federation are immensely excited to take part in and support such a dynamic educational program that inspires young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

Robotics teams tried to instruct their robots to score as many flying discs into their goals as possible during two-minute and 15-second matches. Matches ended with robots attempting to climb up pyramids located near the middle of the field.

Robotics teams tried to instruct their robots to score as many flying discs into their goals as possible during two-minute and 15-second matches. Matches ended with robots attempting to climb up pyramids located near the middle of the field.

I’m gratified that both ISA and the Automation Federation were well-represented at the event. ISA staff participated in an informational exhibit of FIRST partners, distributing information and talking to students and their parents about the automation profession and careers in the automation field. Also attending were Bob Lindeman, Automation Federation Chairman; Steve Pflantz, vice president of ISA’s Professional Development Department; and ISA’s St. Louis members Nick Erickson, Mike Unterreiner, Keith Thomas, and Brian Nixon.

Upon returning from the event, Bob Lindeman remarked that he found the students’ energy, dedication and creativity awe inspiring:

“I must say I wasn’t prepared for the high level of enthusiasm displayed by these students. It was truly eye opening to witness these young people, from elementary grades through high school, so motivated to learn and apply engineering skills. There is no limit to where the future will take us, and no boundary to where these students will lead us. It’s an honor for ISA and the Automation Federation to be a part of this process. I encourage all of our members to get involved locally and contribute.  I guarantee you will be reinvigorated.”

Steve Pflantz was equally as effusive: “This event continues to amaze me each and every time I attend. The positive energy from all these kids having fun, being challenged and competing in this way is uplifting and awe inspiring. This is a remarkable and talented group of kids, and a lot of them are potential future automation professionals.

FIRST also provides the real learning experiences and skills development that young technical professionals will need. From budgeting and scheduling to meeting deadlines and working together, these students are required to meet very realistic project scenarios that even seasoned professionals would find challenging.”

While this year’s FIRST competition has ended, I hope that it serves as the beginning of a new wave of ISA member participation and volunteerism in upcoming FIRST programs and events.

During the FIRST activities and competitions, ISA and the Automation Federation hosted an informational exhibit where students involved in FIRST learned about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field.

ISA and the Automation Federation hosted an informational exhibit where students involved in FIRST learned about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field.

If you haven’t been on hand at a FIRST event, you are missing out on a celebration of youthful discovery, innovation and teamwork that will fill you with optimism regarding the outlook of our automation and control profession. Your involvement in FIRST will help support these bright, enthusiastic young people as they learn, grow and position themselves for success in their lives and careers. After all, some of these students may well design the ground-breaking technologies of the future.

Whether you have just four hours to spare on a weekend or want to serve as a mentor for a given student, there is a volunteer role for you with FIRST. You’ll join other like-minded professionals – more than 120,000 annually – to experience a special camaraderie and personal satisfaction and joy that come when you take part in something truly meaningful.

To discover what teams and events are in your area, find a regional contact,  review mentor and coach roles, and gain more details on FIRST programs, visit www.usfirst.org.

About the AuthorTerrence G. Ives
Terrence G. Ives is the third-generation president and owner of Ives Equipment Corporation in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a process control manufacturing representative and stocking distributor. Terry has been actively involved in ISA leadership for many years. He has held numerous positions at the local and Society level including Society Treasurer, Executive Board Parliamentarian, Finance Committee Chair, Investment Committee Chair, District 2 Vice President, and Philadelphia Section President and Exhibit Chairman. He received a bachelor of science degree in industrial systems engineering from Ohio University.

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