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.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
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.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
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This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
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