A status report

Back in January of 1990, we had the audacity to declare the 90s as "the decade of plant engineering." Were we right? Well, yes and no. Much of what we predicted has come to pass — or at least we've made progress in those directions. Back then, we said that plant engineering is key to better quality, higher productivity, increased profits, a cleaner environment, a safer workplace, and more...


Back in January of 1990, we had the audacity to declare the 90s as "the decade of plant engineering." Were we right? Well, yes and no. Much of what we predicted has come to pass — or at least we've made progress in those directions.

Back then, we said that plant engineering is key to better quality, higher productivity, increased profits, a cleaner environment, a safer workplace, and more modern plants. That assertion was true then, and still is. We talked about the increasingly important role of maintenance in providing capacity assurance, and, in my opinion, we were correct. We talked about the invasion of electronics into the tools and processes of plant engineering and maintenance, and that trend is continuing at an accelerating pace. (For evidence, just take a look at this year's PLANT ENGINEERING Product of the Year entries.)

Back in 1990, we estimated total plant engineering and maintenance expenditures for U.S. industrial plants with more than 100 employees (our audience) at about $304 billion, or 1.3% of U.S. industrial output for that year. Now, our rough estimates of plant engineering expenditures run to around $370 billion, which is about 1% of U.S. industrial output for 2003. Clearly, plant engineers are keeping costs under control. Now that business confidence is returning, perhaps we'll see an uptick in capital investments and maintenance with a resulting return to higher levels for plant engineering budgets.

Perhaps the most interesting factor here is that expenses for fuels and energy have dropped from about 41% of the plant engineering budget in 1990 to about 28% for the past several years. Clearly, plant engineers have done their job in bringing energy costs under tighter control.

Plant engineers who have been around for awhile can certainly point to a lot of progress, but there are some areas that need renewed attention. First on my list is that you, the plant engineer, still do not receive the recognition and respect you are due.

On the plus side are the various credential programs that have developed and grown. Among them: Certified Plant Engineer, Certified Plant Maintenance Manager, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, Certified Reliability Engineer, and others.

Not so positive is the fact that salary increases have only kept pace with other engineering occupations. We have not seen an increase in the presence of plant engineers in upper management. Memberships in the organizations representing our occupation have stopped growing at best and dwindled at worst. The U.S. Census Bureau still fails to recognize what we do as a defined engineering profession.

Educationally, there has been no progress. There is still no B.S. degree in plant engineering to my knowledge — nor even a plant engineering major within the other engineering disciplines. Relatively few people are even aware of what a plant engineer is.

In the decade and more since 1990, plant engineers have successfully met the technical challenges. Our plants are more productive and efficient than ever, thanks in large part to you. But professionally, there is still a need to form a community that will champion the plant engineering function and bring it to a higher level of awareness and respect.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
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 Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
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