Automation to the rescue

Think Again: Productivity, resource management, energy efficiency, skilled workforce shortage—with many challenges, the cure remains smart applications of automation, controls, and instrumentation. See software usability poll results and advice.

08/13/2012


Many issues challenge the world today: productivity, resource management, energy efficiency, skilled workforce shortages. Don’t be humble; you know the cure. It’s all about smart applications of automation, controls, and instrumentation. To win, use the right tools and apply them by building trusting, revenue-producing relationships with employees, partners, and customers. I don’t just say this stuff to get your attention. I hear it again and again and pass along the wisdom.

Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman, former combat decorated fighter pilot and businessman, told attendees at the 2012 Siemens Summit to:

- Prepare for every mission

- Build courage to adapt to change and adversity

- Promote one team and one culture

- Commit to excellence in business and in life outside of work

- Overcome your fears, let your passions drive your beliefs, and recommit yourselves to action

- Preparation builds confidence: The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in battle.

Study up, get briefed on the mission, gather the latest intelligence, understand technology, get system upgrades, software upgrades, and learn and relearn as needed. Have the courage to ask for what you need from those around you.

Why? Automation can help significantly in this resource-hungry world, noted Raj Batra, president, Industry Automation Division, Siemens Industry Inc., and on other worlds, too, like for new Mars exploration, designed with Siemens PLM software. Batra pointed to automation integration as a cure for many challenges. Resource productivity is becoming increasingly important for energy, water, steel, raw material, and food, especially since 3 billion people will enter the middle class in next 20 years, creating a new set of challenges for resource efficiency. Since 2000, there’s been a 147% rise in commodity prices. The cost to bring oil wells online increased 100% in 10 years.

Even on other worlds, automation is the answer. The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab designed and built the Curiosity Rover (as big as a car, landed on Mars on Aug. 6). Siemens software helps with modeling, data storage, programming, and data management, reducing time for design and manufacturing, improving reliability through simulation, reducing costs, increasing the likelihood of success, and improving productivity.

We’re building deeper process know-how, understand domains, apply technologies, and are sharing lessons learned as work is refined over time. Think again: Automation shouldn’t chase the cure. Applied correctly, as Batra suggests, integration automation in the right combinations delivers improvements and repeatability. Let’s drive industry know-how.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE MediaMark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media

ONLINE extra

See links at bottom for more wingman tips, more on the Summit, and Mars Curiosity Rover.

See results immediately below from July control software usability poll.

Poll results

Here are your control software usability poll responses and comments between July 10 and Aug. 3.

1. How user friendly is the control systems software on your site?

0% Nearly impossible

50% Difficult

43% Reasonable

7% Intuitive 

2. Would wider use of icons help users with the control software and decrease training time?

40% I think so

20% Unsure

40% I doubt it

3. Is wider use of smart phones and tablets likely to make control software easier to use?

20% I think so

7% Unsure

73% I doubt it

4. My advice for companies that design control software:

Every new control device uses some form of new control language, not compatible with the installed software.  This makes updating very complicated. Reprogramming is required to accomplish the previously adopted sequence of operation.  Usually, the previous equipment is out dated and no longer supported, requiring the upgrade. 

Do the systems engineering right, including all security engineering.

Make smart phones and the software safer to use, and you might be headed somewhere.

Make everything look like controls in your house. They are easily recognizable by everyone. Simple actions avoid mistakes. Fancy=downtime.

Use modular ISA88-compliant device libraries.  Avoid customization as much as possible. Leverage reusable content with exacting discipline.

Use context sensitive help EVERYWHERE! F1 is the go to item for everything.  “Contact system administrator” is not an acceptable statement. Most of the time, I am the administrator. Tell me what I'm missing, including background information not necessarily part of the product at hand. Forget about web help.  Access is not always available, and one must be self supported.

Standardize communication platforms. There are way too many systems that can't talk to each other.

Continue improving object-oriented development concepts and functionality.  Easier development of alarm management, history logging, and trending are areas of consideration.  External file system read/write access is another, as connectivity means are becoming mature via IEEE 802.  Regarding icon-based user interfaces, there remains differences in symbologies between ANSI and IEC burdening development and training. Symbol libraries are helpful though.

The easier to follow and the more intuitive it is the happier the end user will be, and the learning curve drops in proportion.

Icons create more confusion; text is much better. Icons are the least common denominator across all languages and communicate the least information.  The real issue is to ensure the developer’s view of the system matches the system design model and not the user's view of the equipment.

More engineering interaction: Did you miss the poll and have comments or advice to add? Put Software Usability Poll in the subject line and email your thoughts to mhoske@cfemedia.com.



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