OK, so here’s a shameless plug for my short book “Mastering Split-Range Control”. It’s 30 pages, with everything you could ever want to know about Split-Range Control. Available via Amazon CreateSpace at: https://www.createspace.com/3395995 .

Split-range control uses a single controller with two control valves to maintain a single process variable. It can be used for a variety of applications, such as heating and cooling of a tank or a room. Split-range control is widely used in the process industries, such as pulp and paper, oil and petrochemicals, and mining.

The book covers all aspects of the use of split-range control. Starting with the basics, the book discusses when to use split-range and when not to, costs and benefits, how to configure the control strategy, how to calibrate the valves, how to tune the loops, and even how to train operators and troubleshoot problems. Color pictures illustrate the key concepts.

Do you want to interact with other process control gurus? Where can you find a good social media forum for process control?

As it turns out, they are everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites:

LinkedIn
Strangely enough, this social media site has some fairly good, in-depth discussions on topics related to process control. In my experience, LinkedIn had been mostly for people seeking a career shift. But it turns out that there are now quite a few discussion groups on technical topics as well. You get access to a wide variety of experts, with almost no spam. Worst case, you have to fend off some recruiters. Join at www.LinkedIn.com , and join some of the discussion groups, like:

  • Automation
  • Advanced Process Control (APC) Professionals
  • Automation & Control Engineering
  • Alarm Management
  • Automationtechies

…and that’s just the ones that start with “A”. You can get automated summaries of the activity. Don’t overload…I recommend weekly digest emails. If you see something interesting, then you can jump in.

The A-List
This is a newsgroup-like forum, run on Control.com. You send an email question to the forum, and other members may respond with some solutions.
Go to Control.Com for a list of FAQ’s about the AList.

The Process Automation Usability Project
One of the newer entries to the arena, this forum is well-organized, and is getting contributions from some industry thought leaders. Give it a whirl at: http://www.controlglobal.com/usability/

When joining, please be respectful of the group…Students – This is not supposed to be “free help” for your homework! You might try auditing the group for a little while, to get an idea of what they are doing.

Oh! And be a good process control guru….jump in and share your own knowledge when someone needs a little help!

OK, so you’re at a neighborhood picnic, and your neighbor, Bob, asks about your job. “Oh, yeah, like that 6-sigma stuff, right?”

“Not exactly”, you reply. But you’re at a bit of a loss as to how to explain the difference. You’re involved in process improvement, saving money and energy, variability reduction, automation, and efficiency improvements. So are the 6-sigma people. So what’s the difference? Doesn’t 6-sigma involve “Statistical Process Control“?

In fact, there is a lot of overlap in the goals and the results…what’s different is that 6-sigma is an approach and a methodology, where Process Control is a technology or an engineering discipline. The two go hand-in-hand.

For some background on six-sigma, I recommend this short slide show, The History of Six-Sigma. You’ll see some definitions, and learn about the methodology.

More importantly, as you develop your skills to become a process control guru, how should you incorporate 6-sigma methodology and tools. Here are my recommendations:

1. Get to know the leaders. Six-Sigma Black Belts and Green belts have many of the same goals that you do. If you have a six-sigma program at your company, then it is pretty likely that these people have the ear of management. They know how to get funding and management support.
2. Learn the language. You don’t have to become a Black Belt yourself. But you should definitely learn some of the language of Six-Sigma. You can get a good start on the Wikipedia Six-Sigma page
3. Use Parts of the Six-Sigma Process. The Six-Sigma process can be a bit cumbersome. But there are some excellent tools in the tool kit. If you pick and choose the right tools, you will have a better chance of getting priority, and much better chance of proving your results to management.
3. Partnership: Play to Your Strengths. You are good at delivering control improvements. The Six-Sigma people are trained to document the value. A match made in heaven!
4. Express Results in Six-Sigma Terms. This is win-win. Remember, the Six-Sigma people know what management wants.
5. It’s a Continuous Process. The Six-Sigma approach is all about Continuous Improvement. There are cycles, such as DMAIC, that keep pushing you to higher levels. The discipline of this process can help you to keep moving forward. One common example: Reduce variability, then adjust setpoints to a more profitable region, then find automated ways to keep them there.

In many ways, the Six-Sigma methodologies are a perfect complement to your process control skills. Become a better process control guru by learning about Six-Sigma. You might even be able to explain your job to Bob!

Attending last week’s ISA Expo in Houston was like attending a funeral for a friend.

The aisles were filled with old friends, people I work with every day, and people I haven’t seen in 20 years. While it was great to see everyone, there was a sadness in the air, as we all realized this was, in all likelihood, the final ISA Expo.

ISA leadership, in the form of past president Kim Miller-Dunn, announced rather unceremoniously that next year ISA would hold a completely different sort of event. The large trade-show style event would be gone. While she said the purpose was “to better serve our members “, it seems clear that ISA was primarily trying to stop the financial bleeding.

The ISA Expo is horribly expensive to run. At the cavernous Reliant Center, this year’s show was almost tucked into a corner. It feels like annual attendance has dropped every year since the 2001 ISA Expo was struck by the 9/11 tragedy. By some estimates, attendance this year was down 40%.

Next year’s ISA event (it’s hard for me to call it an Expo) will be held at a hotel in Houston, limited to 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. Attendees will pay $900 to $1000 to attend a two-and-a-half day technical conference. No free admissions to the exhibit.

This format, which is targeted at higher-level decision-makers, will admittedly isolate the majority of ISA members – plant-level technicians and engineers. Vendors from smaller companies also appear very disappointed.

I’ve been attending the ISA Expo for over 20 years. It really is like losing an old friend. In the end, I found myself going through the classic stages of grief:
* Denial – Are they really going to kill the show?
* Anger – Don’t they realize this will hurt us, the members?
* Bargaining – Maybe we can get them to expand the new format…
* Depression – What’s the point of finishing the show today?
* Acceptance – Well, in many ways it was inevitable…

The trade show format seems a bit of an anachronism. Most people simply do a Google search to get more info. Nobody wants to travel. So, indeed, the time has come to say goodbye to the old ISA Expo. So long, old friend…we had many great years together.

Are you aware that there is a movement to formalize the Automation field as a recognized profession? In fact, the U.S. Government is actively involved. If you want to be a process control guru, you should definitely find out more about this group! Read on…

Yesterday, I attended a webinar jointly presented by the U.S. Department of Labor, and an industry group called The Automation Federation. These two groups have been actively working to develop the Automation field as a recognized profession.

Why? Because there is a shortage. A shortage that will continue to grow with time if we do not actively recruit, develop, and retain skilled people into this profession.

At this point, the primary focus has been on the development of a “Competency Model”. This is basically an outline of the skills required to be competent in the field. With a good competency model in place, the thinking is that:
* Colleges and Universities can develop curricula
* Businesses can identify career paths, job descriptions, and training needs
* Individuals can identify their own career and training needs.

The Automation Federation, www.automationfederation.org , is a consortium made up of ISA, World Batch Forum, OMAC, and WINA members. Direct leadership from some industry sponsors is driving this effort forward. For example, Paul Galeski, CEO of Maverick Technologies, was a presenter in the webinar. Maverick is a large system integrator based out of the St. Louis area.

You can get more information about the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration via the following web site: www.workforce3one.org/

The work is just starting. There is a lot of heavy lifting to be done. But, this effort has momentum, and everyone in the automation career field stands to benefit. Please get involved. Your profession needs you!

Get ready to boost your process control skills again. The Engineering Toolbox has some great online tools, to help you become a better process control guru. This includes tools for:

  • Control Valve Sizing
  • P&ID’s
  • Instrument Selection
  • Unit Conversions
  • Many More

Oh! And it’s free! Follow the link below to get a look at it yourself:

Engineering Toolbox Process Control Tools

Ah, summer! Time for days at the beach, relaxing with family. Take some downtime around the house, order take-out food, and let teh laundry go for a few days. It feels to good that we don’t have to be “in control” all the time.

But what about your plant? Can you afford for it to not be “in control”?

It may surprise you to find out that, in a typical plant, 30% of control loops are running in MANUAL. That is, they are not “in control” at all. Any upset that comes along passes right through!

This can lead to losses in efficiency, and greater potential for safety or environmental problems. In fact, control loops left in manual have been found at the root cause of several industrial disasters.

Should you run out to the plant, and force everything into AUTO? No, no, no!! Control Loops in MANUAL are more of a symptom than a problem. Usually, the operator put the loop in MANUAL for a reason: The tuning was bad, the instrument failed, or there was a control valve problem.

As a good control guru, you want to be sure that your plant stays “in control”, even while you are out on vacation. Here are some suggestions:
1. Start by understanding the extent of the problem in your plant. Monitor the % of control loops in MANUAL using on-line tools, like Control Loop Monitoring.
2. For each loop, make sure you understand WHY it was left in MANUAL. Ask the operators. Then resolve the root cause issue.
3. Continue to monitor for loops in MANUAL. This is a very effective way to spot new problems when they occur, even if the operator forgot to tell you about it.