Guest commentary: Seven habits of highly successful control engineers, part 1

A three-part examination by George Buckbee of ways control engineers can become more effective. Part one of three. (Links to parts 2 and 3 follow, below.)


Part one: Highly successful control engineers didn’t become that way by accident. The most successful engineers develop habits that improve results and gain recognition of those results. This discussion addresses specific habits that you can develop or enhance to be more successful.

These habits were developed over 20 years, working with thousands of control engineers around the world. I have seen some people who struggled to identify their results, and others who had great results, but couldn’t get recognition. Over these three installments, we’ll look at some of the habits that have ensured success for the most effective of these engineers. The habits are:

1. Know the process;
2. Focus only on the most important things;
3. Document the baselines;
4. Use tools to be more effective;
5. Network and communicate results;
6. Keep learning; and
7. Share your knowledge.

We’ll look at each one of them, and provide some suggestions for ways to improve your own rate of success.

1: Know the process—Knowing the process is the first and most important habit for control engineers. To be effective in the automation and control of a process, you must first have a thorough understanding of it. Developing process knowledge takes time and effort. Start by studying process flow diagrams and P&IDs. Trace the primary product as it flows through the process, highlighting it on the drawing with a colored marker.

Talk to operators, because they work with the process day in and day out. They understand a lot about how the process normally behaves. They also know about the abnormal and unusual things that can happen during equipment failures, shutdowns, start-ups, and shift changes. The process doesn’t always behave according to the text book. Make sure you know what to expect in abnormal situations. Once you begin to get a sense of what’s going on, tools like Process Interaction Mapping can help you to pinpoint the source of control upsets.

2:to the business. In his book “First Things First,” Stephen Covey advises, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

In a process manufacturing environment, the “main thing” is usually some combination of these factors:

  • Unit cost;

  • Production rate;

  • Quality;

  • Energy costs;

  • Reliability; and

  • Environmental and safety.

ExperTune video case studies

ExperTune offers video case studies.

It will be very difficult to prove success if you cannot link your work to one or more of these factors.
Read part two.

Read part three.

George Buckbee, P.E., is VP of marketing and product development for ExperTune . Reach him at .

—Edited by Peter Welander, process industries editor, ,
Process & Advanced Control Monthly eNewsletter
Register here to select your choice of free eNewsletters .

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.