The morphing of the plant engineer continues

It seems amazing that PLANT ENGINEERING magazine is celebrating 60 years of publication this month. This certainly is both a reflection of the quality and timeliness of the publication itself and the vibrancy of marketplace it serves. As impressive as the feat of the publication’s continued growth is, perhaps an even more impressive occurrence is the morphing of the plant engineer himself.
By Timothy B. Janos, Spectrum Energy Concepts Inc. November 15, 2007

It seems amazing that PLANT ENGINEERING magazine is celebrating 60 years of publication this month. This certainly is both a reflection of the quality and timeliness of the publication itself and the vibrancy of marketplace it serves. As impressive as the feat of the publication’s continued growth is, perhaps an even more impressive occurrence is the morphing of the plant engineer himself.

When I think back and consider the folks I met and dealt with 35 or 40 years ago who were plant engineers versus the current crop, the differences and changes are truly significant. When I began my career, I dealt with some really clever and “street-wise” plant engineers who, more often than not, were really not engineers in the degreed sense. These gentlemen (and back then it was all men) typically grew into the job through the ranks of the maintenance mechanics. If you think about the tasks facing these men in those days, we would agree that Job 1 was keeping the production machinery running and ensuring that product was coming out of the plant doors.

Admittedly, some of the techniques used to keep ’em running were more a matter of necessity, lack of repair parts and true technical training, than the result of a competent and fully stocked MRO operation. We should give these forbearers the credit they deserve for keeping plants everywhere operating in the face of limited resources and daunting challenges.

Many of these folks were true experts in keeping the production machines up and operational and knew the ins-and-outs of each machine better than they knew their families, since, unfortunately, they may have spent more time with the machines.

Truly there has been a significant metamorphosis of the plant engineer. Today the plant engineer has education, skills and management responsibilities. Many of us have experienced these changes in dealing with the industrial sectors in the last 20 years and have seen this trend accelerate in the last 10 years. Recently, I have been involved in several energy audits for major industrial clients; one being a large, multi-national tier-one automotive supplier and the other a worldwide manufacturing conglomerate. Let me tell you that today’s plant engineers are incredible people.

I have had the pleasure of meeting with and exploring various strategies with plant engineers having impressive resumes. In fact, many of these folks, and more than a few were women, not only were registered professional engineers but had master’s degrees, some folks having more than one. Talk about competent and educated %%MDASSML%% these people were excellent. Not only do these folks understand the machinery, the building envelope and the required maintenance and upgrade procedures, they have responsibility for utility purchasing and energy usage and savings throughout their plants.

So what else is the outcome of this “morphing” of the role of the plant engineer we must ask? The plant engineer is forever embedded as a key part of the management and decision making process of all organizations. If the plant engineer was once an adjunct to the management functions of an organization, I would submit that that individual, in an expanded role, is critical to the success of any corporation.

The assurance of ever increasing energy costs means that today’s plant engineers will need to be even more educated in all aspects of the various utility suppliers and the complexity of new rates and new energy savings opportunities. In Ohio, for example, electrical rates are predicted to jump 40% to 50% beginning Jan. 1, 2009, as a result of rate deregulation. Maryland and Illinois have experienced similar rate shocks recently. The impact on any operation is sure to be significant. Other parts of the country are enmeshed in demand-response electrical rates that require much study and understanding by the plant engineer to test the suitability and application in each of their facilities.

One thing is certain: never has the United States been blessed with better educated and dedicated plant engineers who will remain a critical element in the success or failure of our manufacturing industry. This role is deserved and has been earned by all of you. Congratulations on morphing into your increased responsibilities and just think of what lies ahead in the next 60 years!

Author Information
Timothy B. Janos is a life member of the Association of Energy Engineers and served in 2006 as its international president. Currently semi-retired, he is president of Spectrum Energy Concepts, Inc., an energy-consulting practice.