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Layoffs, cutbacks, outsourcing, retirements, forced retirements, merg-


ers and consolidations are stripping plants of instrument engineers,
control engineers, technicians, maintenance people and operators. Once
gone, their accumulated knowledge of the plant’s processes goes with
them, leaving companies without in-house expertise. Companies are
turning to vendors for help.

If current trends continue, most of you will no longer be the time to tune controllers since there are too many other
working as a control engineer for an end user company 10 fires to put out.”
years from now. More likely you will be working for a sys- The power industry is an excellent example of what hap-
tems integrator, a process control vendor, or a service com- pens when knowledge leaves. As we point out in this month’s
pany of some kind. Soon, there may be nobody left in the Control Report (p31), no coal-fired power plants have been
plants, your accountant-bosses will have subcontracted all built in 25 years, all the people who knew how to control
the work out, and process control will have become another coal-related process have retired, and there is no one
purchased utility, like electricity and water. left–except a few vendors–who know how to control a coal-
That’s what happened to the engineering and technical fired power plant. Many in the process industries are going
staff who worked at the Danube Refinery, Százhalombatta, down that road, too, as knowledge leaves the plants.
Hungary. The refinery is the biggest production facility of One reason for loss of institutional knowledge is the aging
the MOL Group, a huge oil conglomerate in Europe. Eight and shrinking workforce in our business (Figure 1). A CON-
years ago, 130 engineers and technicians worked in the TROL reader poll shows that 71% of you are 41–50 years
refinery. Today, after downsizing, outsourcing and restruc- old, and 12% of you are over 50. Only 3% of you are under
turing, all of them are gone. 25 and ready to step into their shoes and learn the business.
“As the former instrumentation department disappeared, Few young engineers choose to enter our profession, maybe
most of its services were taken over by vendors like because their fathers warn them away. Or maybe young
Honeywell,” says an MOL manager, who asked to remain engineers avoid control because of the disturbing trend of
anonymous. Another 45 employees were eliminated when process companies to contract out major parts of a control
the refinery contracted out operation of its wastewater and engineer’s work and shut down entire instrumentation
waste incineration facilities to EarthTech in the UK. departments, as MOL did.
The refinery also gave Emerson $10 million to design and
install a new control system as the main automation con- A Boon to Suppliers
tractor (MAC) for a control project. As the MAC, Emerson There’s no question that the loss of knowledge in plants is
will perform front-end engineering design, applications benefiting suppliers, such as process control vendors, sys-
engineering and project management, install and commis- tems integrators and service companies. “We are seeing a
sion the automation solution, and supply operator training. very large upswing in engineering services,” says Bill
That doesn’t leave much work for the refinery’s control Robertson, director of global services and support for process
people. “The company tries to hire back or subcontract for- systems and solutions division of Emerson Process
mer MOL employees when it needs specific knowledge,” Management (www.emersonprocess.com). “Customers are
says the anonymous manager. increasingly outsourcing engineering services on new proj-
This is happening at smaller companies, too. “Our chief ects, migrations and, to some degree, ongoing system main-
instrument engineer left for greener pastures, and was tenance and operations.”
never replaced,” laments a manager of a small, specialty Honeywell says it takes deep pockets for a process compa-
organic chemical manufacturer in the Midwest. “Then ny to keep up these days. “Unless a plant has the luxury of
another instrument specialist left. Now we are relying on being able to overstaff and over-train, they will have to
an engineering service to support our PLC programming, address the issue through the strategic use of suppliers who
HMI programming and instrument specifications, and combine expert knowledge with technology that allows that
relying on process engineers to tune controllers. The few knowledge to be disseminated out over a broad customer
remaining instrument technicians we have do not have set,” says Andy Drexler, Global Marketing Leader, Services,

www.controlglobal.com APRIL/2005 37
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Expertise Lost

Honeywell Process Solutions (www.honeywell.com). nostics. The system predicts when a motor-pump set needs
Drexler, of course, means companies like Honeywell. maintenance. “Analysts who know how to interpret vibration
“To prevent the impact of lost expertise, plants must care- data are leaving the plants,” says Brian Humes, VP of Emerson.
fully select partners whose expertise they can use on an ‘as He says they are retiring or forming their own engineering com-
needed’ basis and who offer the technology to help less expe- panies, and the plants are not hiring anyone to take over the
rienced workers quickly reach a level of proficiency that jobs. Their knowledge is not being passed on. “The CSI 9210
once required years of experience,” he adds. performs the necessary analysis and identifies the problem, so
All the big process control companies are aware of the out- maintenance can take care of it without an analyst.”
sourcing trend, and are gearing up to provide services rang-
ing from design to installation to operations to maintenance. Unintended Consequences
John Berra, president of Emerson Process Management, No one can blame vendors for taking advantage of the oppor-
agrees that Emerson is capable of doing everything in a tunity. Plants are losing or divesting their control systems pro-
plant, including running it. “We have no plans to offer such fessionals for various reasons, some good, some bad.
a service,” says Berra, “and I doubt that any company would Sometimes the motivation is a clear attempt to shake up and
want us to actually run their plant.” modernize plant and organizational systems that are stuck in
Nevertheless, the vendors are developing new hardware the mud. Sometimes the motivation is clearly to appease Wall
and software that gives them the capability to take over more Street analysts. Sometimes, the motivation is just plainly to pro-
and more responsibilities, such as automated monitoring, vide more income for the top management of the company.
documentation, tuning, diagnostics and so on. Companies do what their management believes they have to
“Advanced diagnostic capabilities, such as our Loop do. And so we meet the law of unintended consequences.
Scout /Alarm Scout Service, enable the Experion control In many cases, plants that divest themselves of engineers
system to quickly identify and isolate problem areas in the have nowhere else to turn for help but to their vendors. The
large sea of control loop and alarm performance data,” says vendors have the necessary expertise, experience, process
Drexler. “These services automate and optimize plant work knowledge and a staff of engineers. However, rumors persist
process that would have required significant time and effort that the vendors are stretched very thin these days, and are
from expert personnel in the past.” not keeping up.
Emerson just announced its CSI 9210 machinery health Glenn Givens, a control systems specialist at Inno-
transmitter (Figure 2), which automates rotating machine diag- vention Industries (www.innovin.com) in Burlington,

Figure 1: Aging, Shrinking Workforce

What Is the Average Age of People What's the Average Length of Time (In Years)
Who Work in Automation at Your Plant? People at Your Plant Have Worked in Automation?
20-25 60+

51-60
26-30 11-20

5-10

31-40
41-50 21-30
Less
than 5

30+

The aging, shrinking population of control engineers is not being replaced by younger engineers.
Source: CONTROL Magazine reader poll, www.controlglobal.com.

38 APRIL/2005 www.controlglobal.com
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Expertise Lost

Ontario, Canada, certainly isn’t control is now easy enough for the basic
impressed by vendor expertise. “If you automation engineer and some configura-
ask one of their technical people a ques- tion tasks can be accomplished by opera-
tion, they usually know less than I do tors instead of engineers.”
and their answer is ‘I don’t know, why Berra says they’ve seen this trend at
don’t you try it?’,” says Givens. “When I Emerson. “As our diagnostic tools do
find an important bug and I have hard more of the low-level work, we’ve been
data, they first say they’re interested, and moving up our engineers into more
then nothing is done. I don’t bother responsible jobs,” he says. “Our support
Figure 2.
engineers spend more time on bigger cus-
tomer issues, and less time diagnosing
Vibration Analyzer in a Can
equipment problems.”
Perhaps such a realignment of work is
the future for control engineers. Instead
of working with the actual equipment,
tuning loops and diagnosing problems,
you will let software do that work while
you operate at a higher level–such as
approving invoices from vendors.
SOURCE: EMERSON

Keep the Knowledge


When experienced engineers leave the
plant, they take valuable knowledge with
Analysts who understand vibration data are them, such as the reasons for certain types
leaving plants for greener pastures, and are not of loop-tuning parameters, why PLC logic
being replaced. Emerson’s CSI 9210 machinery was done a certain way, or why batch
health analyzer diagnoses problems with rotat- sequences are done in a particular order.
ing machinery and tells operators and mainte- Therefore, you should make every effort
nance exactly what is wrong and how long to capture that knowledge before it is sent
before the motor-pump fails completely. away. Good documentation right from the
git-go helps, of course, but if that’s lacking,
telling them any more. I see their con- you need to create it. To justify the
trols expertise as ‘entry level’ or perhaps expense of documenting your existing sys-
slightly more advanced than the average tem, you can explain to your senior man-
instrument technician.” agement that such documentation will
The manager of the small specialty reduce the cost of future upgrades.
chemical company says help eventually “Often the lack of knowledge of exist-
comes. “When we scream for help, so far ing systems becomes obvious when cus-
we have been able to get help from our tomers attempt to migrate to newer gen-
engineering service,” he says. “But it eration equipment,” says Robertson.
comes at a high price, and sometimes “The first and sometimes painful step
with a delay.” along this path is to fully document what
To keep from getting overwhelmed by the customer has. We provide a wide
the increasing requirements of plants, array of services and technology to make
the vendors are coming up with ways to the process of untangling the spaghetti
simplify their lives. code that we occasionally find for the
“We’ve systematically engineered com- customer so they can migrate their valu-
plexity out of our systems, at times elimi- able configurations.”
nating tasks that used to take up valuable Givens has known this for years. “We
engineering time, like configuring high- configure and build controls, write soft-
way addresses,” says Robertson. “Advanced ware, diagnose process problems, tune

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Expertise Lost

)PN 7V^LY
controls and, occasionally, train techni- Solutions Consultant at Yokogawa
ZTHSS ZPaL
cians,” he says. “We have detailed records (www.us.yokogawa.com). “Exapilot is a
Microsoft Windows-based operation effi-
of every single bump test done to every sin-
gle loop since the day we went into busi- ciency improvement software package
that allows operating personnel to stan-
ness. I can find the data files for every one
and tell you how I calculated the tuning dardize and automate what would nor-
parameters, how I determined how much mally be manual procedures and incor-
backlash/stiction was present, and so on.” porate the know-how and skill of expert
operators. Operating personnel
Figure 3.
can build and modify these pro-
Capture That Knowledge cedures with an icon based
interface. Users can easily con-
figure and test complex proce-
dures. Procedures built with
Exapilot can be used to stan-
dardize and automate manual
procedures, improve plant effi-
ciency, and improve the safety of
plant operations.”
Because vendors must docu-
SOURCE: YOKOGAWA

ment what they do when devel-


oping and configuring control
systems so they can support them ;OL  :LYPLZ +05YHPS TV\U[LK 7V^LY :\WWSPLZ
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standardize and automate what would normally be tools for their own use. Check ^P[OMLH[\YLZZ\JOHZ!
manual procedures, incorporate the know-how and with your control system vendor
skill of expert operators, and document everything. to see what’s available. 4LL[ZNSVIHSYLX\PYLTLU[Z^P[O\UP]LYZHS
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A great deal of new software is available to Train and Keep Maintenance
help you document your system. An I/E Supervisor at a power company in )YVHKV\[W\[YHUNL\W[V >
Wonderware’s Industrial Application Server, Texas trains his technicians and spreads /PNOVWLYH[PUN[LTWLYH[\YL^P[OV\[KLYH[PUN
for example, allows control and system engi- the knowledge around, so he’s not crip- \W[Vo-
neers to standardize system implementation pled if a key person leaves. He’s also less
and encapsulate knowledge on ArchestrA- dependent upon vendors. “When we pur- )\PS[PU ZOVY[JPYJ\P[[OLYTHSV]LYSVHKHUK
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based systems, says Steve Lewarne, chase an upgrade or a new system, we add
Wonderware’s vice president of product in cost for training in the price of the 4LL[ZZ[YPUNLU[Z[HUKHYKZMVYZHML[`HUK
marketing. “ArchestrA provides a structured equipment,” he explains. “If it is not cost PU[LYMLYLUJL
model and approach to designing superviso- effective to send all the techs, then the
ry automation and information systems,” he ones that do attend the training are 7S\NNHISLJVUULJ[VYZYLK\JLKV^U[PTLHUK
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cycle of the system. These allow system engi- understanding, troubleshooting and
neers to easily design, build, deploy, and repair of the equipment. This helps these
maintain secure and sustainable automa- individuals become more of an asset to the -VY TVYLPUMVYTH[PVUVY[LJOUPJHSZ\WWVY[
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tion and information applications.” company and it makes my life a whole lot +059HPS
Yokogawa has something similar. easier. You can never train enough.” VYPUMV\Z'^HNVJVT
“Yokogawa has developed a software solu- He loves the new open control sys- ^^^^HNVJVT
tion called Exapilot (Figure 3) for cap- tems, because it gets him away from pro-
turing this fleeting best-operations knowl- prietary hardware. “Control system man-
edge,” says Fred Woolfrey, Productivity ufacturers used to build and supply every

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Expertise Lost
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component, but now they buy from third
parties to build their systems,” he says.
tune.com). “The only way to survive and
be competitive is to use software tools like [LJOUVSVN`
“Believe it or not, this is really a cost sav- this.” It also helps you preserve process
ings to the customer. For example, if I knowledge, because it records all PID tun-
lose a hard drive on my engineers’ con- ing changes and allows you to enter notes
sole, I run down to Radio Shack and buy as to why you tuned it that way, he adds.
one at a quarter of the cost than when
you had to buy from a single source.” Run Your Own Server Farm
It’s not just economics. He says the With server-based systems soon to be
vendors have lost some of their expertise announced, the big control vendors will
in repairing their own equipment. All the be able to run your plant from centralized
vendors responding to my question of server “farms,” where specialists of all
how much they support their older kinds will be available to diagnose prob-
equipment said they go back to the dawn lems, retune loops, decide when mainte-
of time, but that’s what you would expect nance needs to be done, and even operate
them to say. They did not say they had the plant from afar. In other words, the
experts doing the work. entire control system and all its engineer-
Therefore, you can probably build a case ing and tech support can be outsourced.
against letting a vendor take over mainte- There is no reason why a forward-think-
nance on your system on the basis of cost ing control engineer such as yourself
and performance. Cruising the automation could not set up a similar server farm in
lists on the Web would probably get you your company; that is, a centralized system
enough anecdotal evidence to even make a that monitors and controls all your compa- ;OLUL^;6716)7 u:ZLYPLZVMYHPSTV\U[LK[LYTPUHS
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flint-nosed bean counter think twice about ny’s process operations around the world. PZ ZPTWS` YLTHYRHISL .L[ HSS [OL ILULMP[Z VM [OL
outsourcing maintenance. Keeping equip- In other words, instead of having instru- VYPNPUHS *(., *3(47u WS\Z [OL MVSSV^PUN \UPX\L
ment knowledge in-house helps keep jobs mentation departments in each plant, set MLH[\YLZ!
for you and your techs, but you also have to up a central Instrument Engineering
be cost effective. department at company headquarters, and :PTWS`ZTHSSLY!ZWHJLZH]PUNZ\W[V
run all your plants from there.
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Analyze Those Loops Yourself Such a system documents and pre-
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The process control vendors and service serves all the process knowledge in one
companies have built powerful analysis place. A centralized system also preserves :PTWS`Q\TWLYLK!K\HSQ\TWLYZSV[HJJLW[Z
and diagnostic capabilities into their new the jobs of your company’s expert control W\ZOPUQ\TWLYZ`Z[LT
software systems. They have the ability to engineers, techs, and operations people,
monitor every process variable, put all and keeps all their knowledge in house. :PTWS`THYRLK!Z\IZ[HU[PHSJVZ[ZH]PUNZPU
the data into a process historian, and ana- The wave of the future is to consolidate all TH[LYPHSHUKPUZ[HSSH[PVU
lyze it on a loop-by-loop basis for effi- the control, maintenance and diagnostics
ciency from remote service centers or work in a plant anyway, so just ride the wave, :PTWS`KLZPNULK!^P[OMYLL7YV:LY]L
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locally, in your plant. set up your own central operation, and keep
You might want to take advantage of the your knowledge in house. Otherwise, you
same tools to preserve your job. PlantTriage might do better to shop your resume to who-
from ExperTune and similar software from ever will have to pick up the ball as the
other vendors can perform the same service knowledge disappears from your plant.
that the process control companies offer. In Adversity always breeds opportunity. -VYHMYLLZHTWSLIYVJO\YLHUKKLZPNU[VVS
fact, the vendors might be using the same When your business accounting manage- JVU[HJ[>(.6[VKH`H[
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software, because it works. ment starts looking for ways to replace VYPUMV\Z'^HNVJVT
“A performance monitoring package engineers and techs with outside services, ^^^^HNVJVT
like PlantTriage prioritizes the loops that show them that you can do the same job
need attention and automatically diag- at a lower cost by using the same knowl-
noses the problems,” says John Gerry, edge management tools that the outside
president of ExperTune (www.exper- suppliers will use if you don’t. C

www.controlglobal.com