Reply To: What advice would you offer new (young) controls engineers?

Soolocks5779George Barnette
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Morning, that’s  very, very good advice, and I was taught that a long time ago–ask the operators. I don’t know how many times they have pointed me right to an electrical or controls/PLC problem and saved me countless hours. And, as a controls engineer, one needs to repay the favors. Rearrange the screens if it will simplify their work, increase production time, etc. Granted, they don’t run the maintenance or control division, but as you pointed out, they have to USE it; you don’t.

I was called over to a very old CNC machine one day, an axis had stopped taking commands, and so the machine was down. A very old Fadal, made back in the eighties. I had already fixed the tool changer, which hadn’t worked in about a year, so I was eager to help this operator out, and he was very pleased that now the tool changer worked. When I got over there, I had no clue where to start. The operator told me “the last time this happened was about 2 years ago. The other electrician took all the motion boards out and used a pencil eraser and cleaned the contacts where the boards plug in. I don’t know if that’s it, but you might want to have look at that.” Then he showed me which boards they were, because I had no clue. Did exactly what he suggested, fired it back up and it worked perfectly. He very well could have went on break, caught up on his paperwork, anything but help, and left me to the rantings of the production supervisor, but he didn’t.

And +1 on Alarms. I worked for a large utility out west for about 11 years, and spent many hours in SCADA asking operators about problems with a station or a motor starting issue or whatever. I asked one day what the graphic meant that there were 760 alarms. The said, yes, there are that many alarms. There are supposed to be only about 10. “Engineering is working on it”, they said. For the last 8 years. “We ignore about everything you see there. The only ones that get a response from us are power fail, low or no flow (it was a water utility), loss of pressure and level readback or if a call gets dropped. (SCADA used a radio interface with all the sites from the main control room). These hi’s and low’s and building temperature are all just a bunch of fluff and B.S. We’ve been wanting this fixed since I’ve been here, and that’s 16 years.”

So when these new engineers have a horn or light go off every 8 seconds because of following sequencing instead of common sense, then you’ll get the “cry wolf” syndrome and when a real issue pops up, they’ll ignore it.

I really hope this generation is as focused on leaving a legacy for their next generation as we were for them. We have to teach them all we know and let them drive on. Have a great week!!