Feedback: Balkanization of instrumentation and control profession

Stephen Curyk provides further insight on specialists, engineers, and experts, as they relate to control architecture.


Dennis Brandl’s article “IT and Engineering Insight: Control architecture, who needs it?" highlights the troubling symptom of balkanization in the Instrumentation and Control Profession. Instead of having a team of Instrument and Control Engineers on a project, we now have a gaggle of specialists both inside and outside a project. There are specialists for safety systems, control valves, flow instruments, level instruments, and other field instruments. These specialists may be the engineering companies engineers, the client personnel, vendor personnel, who may or may not be engineers, specialty company personnel, such as DCS experts or PLC programmers, analyzer experts, from the engineering company or the vendor and other, so called, experts.

All of these people have to be able to communicate with, not only each other but also with process engineers and other disciplines. In addition many of these specialists show little ownership of the project. They expect process data and if the data is faulty, have little or no reason to point the anomaly to a process engineer or project manager from a different company. In addition they may be reluctant to point out a possible mistake or a point of confusion to, what they consider, a client.

In addition, each specialty group becomes a fief unto itself and resents any interference by any other specialty group. Errors and mistakes are always the other specialists, the process group or another discipline’s fault. Is it any wonder that a vendor seeing an opportunity, in this confusion, to create another profit center springs on it and invents a new discipline – control architect.

I am put in mind of an old instrumentation joke that if a control system had enough old fashioned relays, the control system would never work because one of the relays would always be failing. In a like manner, if we continue to create new instrument specialists we will get to a point where no projects will ever be free of unsolved problems because communication with all parties will be impossible.

The only saving grace is that the field technician and engineers will always be there to fix design engineering mistakes.

- Stephen Curyk, P.E., Lago Vista, TX

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