'The age of the control engineer is just dawning’

Dr. Peter Martin of Schneider Electric talked about opportunities to apply control engineering skills beyond efficiency at the Schneider Electric Global Automation Conference.


Dr. Peter Martin of Schneider Electric talked about opportunities to apply control engineering skills beyond efficiency at the Schneider Electric Global Automation Conference. Courtesy: Bob Vavra, Plant Engineering, CFE MediaDelivering a stirring call to action to a room filled with engineers, Dr. Peter Martin of Schneider Electric told attendees at the opening of the Schneider Electric Global Automation Conference in Dallas that changes in industrial automation should make the control engineer indispensable in the years to come.

"I've heard people day the age of the control engineer is over. Wrong. The age of the control engineer is just dawning," said Martin, a Schneider Electric Fellow and vice president of business value consulting. "We have to apply control engineering to manage more than efficiency."

Martin said the control engineer is all about managing change, a subject fundamental to the use and technology around the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). "If something doesn't change, you don't have to control it. If it changes frequently, you have to control it," Martin noted. "It's a matter of applying real-time control theory to areas other than efficiency." Among the areas Martin cited were:

  • Reliability. "You can convert maintenance from a management problem to a control problem, and we're really good at solving that problem," Martin said.
  • Profitability. "This is not a matter of going into the business systems," Martin said. "It's understanding what is in real-time control and what what needs to be done transactionally. The challenge is to think of our front line people not as a labor force, but to think of them as performance managers. Why don't we allow them to make them decisions with the right information? What these people can do with the right information is astounding."
  • Security, safety and the environment. Martin said these all are issues that need to be considered as real-time control issues. "The problems we face are control problems. We are control engineers," Martin told the audience. "Let's apply your trade where company needs it to be applied. Let's apply your trade where the world needs to be applied."

Martin also talked about how manufacturers and product developers need to think less transactional and more real-time to adapt to the new world of real-time business decisions and real-time product delivery. "The real problem is not connecting the two domains; it's rethinking the two domains," he said. "We've reached the point where technology is not a barrier to solving problems. Technology shouldn't be the barrier between the people and their jobs; it should be the conduit between the people and their jobs. It's lights-on manufacturing. Let's no longer eliminate people; let's use people to their fullest extent."

- Bob Vavra is content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.

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