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!

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A guru always stays up to date on best practices. Are you keeping up with the best practices of the process control industry? In this blog post, we’ll look at some resources to help you stay current.

Let’s face it – “Process Control” is a huge field. You need to keep up with standards for instrumentation, documentation, electrical codes, control theory and application, hardware, networking, security, and dozens of other topics.

So how do you know where to turn? Luckily, there are some excellent resources to keep you pointed in the right direction. Some of these are “official”, and others are more informal. But all are very informative, and will save you a lot of work. Here’s a sampling of some of the best on-line resources for best practices in process control:

Best Practices in Process Control

Reference Link Description
Process Industries Practices for Process Control http://www.pip.org/practices/pc/index.asp A treasure-trove of best practices for the process control professional. Whether you need guidelines for purchase, selection, or application, you’ll find it here. Most are available for purchase at a reasonable fee. Or, your company can get unlimited access by paying the $25K fee. There are less expensive trial memberships available. They even offer a Sample Guideline for Application of Control Valves for free.
ISA ISA Standards Includes many commonly-accepted standards for instrumentation and automation. ISA’s standards are good for topics such as documentation, test procedures, batch control, and security. They have also harmonized with a number of other agencies, such as ANSI. As a “standards organization”, some of these documents can be a bit abstract. Not as concrete as the application guidance docs in the PIP. However, you can’t beat the price: If you are an ISA member, you can download ISA’s 150+ standards, absolutely free.
IEEE IEEE Standards Web Page IEEE standards are widely recognized. Like ISA’s standards, they are not always directly applicable as a best practice. However, there are IEEE standards for most all hardware-related issues, as well as many software issues on process control. Finding what you want is a bit difficult, however.

Last week, I attended 2 events in Houston, and was shocked by the low turnout of automation and process control practitioners.

The first was the ARC Event, “Optimizing Asset Lifecycle Performance”.  The list of registered attendees showed that only about 20% of the attendees came from user companies.  The other 80% were various suppliers and consultants.  This was confirmed by a show of hands in some of the breakout sessions.

The second event, of course, was the ISA Expo.  In “the old days”, this event was the place for automation and process control professionals.  Attendance appears to be way, way, down in general.  In its heyday, this event had well over 20,000 people.  Now, it seems doubtful that it could reach 5,000.  And most of these are the vendors.

There was some great information available at these events.  The technical sessions, in fact, were well-attended.

So what is happening?  We’re not sure exactly, and would be interested in your comments.  Here are some thoughts:

1. Houston is still recovering from Hurricane Ike, so local engineers could not attend.  This seems plausible.  My hotel was awash with refugees from Galveston, FEMA workers, and plywood.

2. Younger people don’t come to trade shows.  This also seems plausible.  There were very young people at these events.  ARC is targeted at the over-40 crowd anyways.  And ISA has made a few attempts to bring in more students and young engineers.  This year, ISA even brought in high school students. (And I am sure these will be counted toward the official attendance numbers!)

3. The shows are simply not an effective way to do business anymore.  Google holds the keys to the universe.  I don’t really believe this…but I have been wrong before!

4. Travel budgets are down to nothing.

If it keeps up like this, then next year, we could be singing “Where Have all the Trade Shows Gone?”  (My sincerest apologies to Pete Seeger for the lyrics! )

Please speak up…Why do you think these events have limited user participation?

I’ll be heading to the ISA Expo next week.  In the U.S., this is one of the largest Automation Industry trade shows, although it is not nearly as large as it used to be.

Why should you attend the ISA Expo?

As a practitioner in the field of process control, you should definitely attend the ISA Expo, at least once.   Why? There are several good reasons:

  • You get to see what is new & exciting in the industry.  Some is rather ho-hum.  But some is pretty exciting!
  • You get to meet some of the leaders in the field, face-to-face.  For example, at this year’s ISA Expo, you can meet Dick Morley, the “inventor of the PLC”, and Greg Shinskey,  the grandfather of modern process control.  If you want to meet more geek gods (that’s not a typo!), stop by ISA’s book store.  Many authors will be milling about.  Here’s an insider tip: Most of the authors will be hanging around the book store on Wednesday evening, as ISA hosts a reception for authors right after the show floor closes.
  • The technical sessions are usually pretty good.  You can see case studies and technical examples from your peers.

The Dark Side

It’s not all peaches & cream…Here are some things to watch out for:

  • The food at the expo. It’s terrible, concessionized, overprocessed, yuck, yuck, yuck. After the expo, head off to some better Houston restaurants, like my favorite, Pappadeaux cajun seafood.
  • Vendors looking for a warm body to talk with.  Do yourself a favor, and plot out which booths you want to visit.  Because the show is smaller each year, vendors are a bit hungry, and they may “pounce” on you as you walk by.

ISA, formerly the “Instrument Society of America”, is trying to change its name to “The International Society of Automation”. When I met Kim Miller-Dunn, ISA president, a few weeks ago, the re-naming was at the top of her list. And the new title much better reflects the purpose of ISA.

As a member, you receive a copy of InTech magazine, which is a forward-looking magazine, with attention given to the direction of the automation and process control industries. The ISA website is also a good way to see what sort of things are being emphasized in the industry. Visit ISA’s Web Site

You also gain access to ISA’s standards, such as S88, the batch standard. The standards are available free to members. If you are involved in system design, you should have copies of the relevant standards. No excuses!

Local Section meetings are organized throughout the world. These typically meet once per month. Many offer free seminars, and mini trade-show exhibits. But mostly, they are a great way to meet other people in the industry in your area. The process control community is pretty tight-knit. I have met many people through ISA, and many of them appear years later, in a different job, in a different state, and in unexpected ways.

There is an annual fee of $85 to join. $10 for Students.

Do yourself (and your career) a favor – Join ISA today. Use this link:

Join ISA Now