classic | mobile


SA Instrumentation & Control Buyers' Guide


Letter to the editor
September 2017, News

Dear Sir,

The combination of your editorial the ARC Advisory report and the Gavin Halse column in the July SAI&C, prompted this response.

The situation regarding current and future staffing is intriguing: even with a conventional, 4-20 mA plant, staffing is less than optimal at most of these. How do we know? Delegates at our various courses in topics related to control, often claim that their reason for attending is to ‘fill in some of the gaps’. By the end of almost any of these courses, it is obvious that the ‘gap’ is actually a ravine. Most maintenance staff seem to get by with a mixture of trial-and-error, and memory (last time the fault was X, let’s see if it’s the same again). Much of the problem seems to start at school level, and doesn’t improve from there.

Another part of the problem is that thinking is not taught, and many students appear to learn only how to pass exams, without the understanding that should be a part of their education. Another part is that mental arithmetic is no longer taught, with the result that most people reach for a calculator to convert between milli Amps and Amps (not to mention that they are not sure whether to multiply or divide). This lack often means that measurements are taken without knowing what the expected result should be, and therefore not knowing whether or not the measurement is correct. And this is just at the instrument maintenance level. Now compound this by bringing digital data communication into the mix, and then adding big data, plus Artificial Intelligence.

When it comes to loop control, chemical engineers often make the transition to this discipline quite effectively. This is probably aided by a better operations understanding than the equivalent instrumentation technician or engineer. However, there is a lot more to effective control than understanding the algorithms involved, and a part of this is understanding the interaction between the process and the instruments and, in particular, final control elements. Then there is the question of whose responsibility it is – shouldn’t it lie with the person responsible for instrumentation and control?

Along the same lines, who should take responsibility for the IT component? Here one could argue that the form the information capture should take (i.e. which is the most relevant and actionable information, and which form the action should take) should be a joint venture between the C&I practitioner, and the person most familiar with the process and how it can be improved. Obviously the lines are blurring here, and perhaps that is a good thing. Someone (I think it was Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline) pointed out that the most fertile area for improvement is at the overlap, where ideas from different points of view, can interact effectively. So add process, C&I and IT together, and the possibilities for some creative improvement are multiplied. And this is just for continuous (usually chemical) processes.

Now add Industrie 4.0/IIoT into the mix. Unfortunately, politicians have heard this phrase, and obviously don’t appreciate what it implies. Comments like “Industrie 4.0 will save Africa” are being spouted, without realising the Industrie 4.0 sounds the death-knell for unskilled labour, and in Africa, including the RSA, the necessary skills are thin on the ground.

This ties in with what was spoken about above: that a rethink about education and training is urgently needed. Firstly, from the Grades up, people need to be encouraged to think and to argue, as a necessary first step to true learning and understanding. Secondly, they need to comprehend that understanding is underpinned by prior understanding, and that an exam doesn’t signal that a reset button can be pressed on what came before. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it should be impressed on them that learning should become a lifelong habit, fed by curiosity. In our field, one of the givens is change. From an early age, children need to be reminded that education is preparing them for change, and that means ongoing individual and collective growth.

For one, it means that educators must be prepared for this themselves, and create in the learners an excitement and expectation around change and growth. For another, it means that employers must also embrace the expectation of change, and the possibilities for improvement that this brings (which also means that questioning of the status quo must be a given).

In conclusion, Prof Sylvan Blignaut of NMMU, in the 8 June edition of The Star, (talking about the failure of Curriculum 2005), states: “One of the reasons was a lack of alignment between the school curriculum and teacher education in universities and colleges. Another was a lack of capacity and support for teachers whose opinions and feelings about the curriculum were not taken into consideration.” It left many teachers feeling hopeless or inadequate. This can be extended to bosses during their career, who also need a shift in the way they accept questions.

This means that not only their teachers, but also their future mentors, need to have something of a mindshift. Mentors should include their supervisors, who also need to realise that they must be playing a role in improving plant performance, by getting the maximum from their charges.

Where do we start?

Eric Carter,


Supplied By: turboTRAIN
Tel: +27 11 026 5884
Fax: +27 11 787 3978
Share via email     Share via LinkedIn   Print this page

Further reading:

  • From the Editor's desk: New threat to plant safety emerges
    February 2018, Technews Publishing (SA Instrumentation & Control), News
    Since the Stuxnet strike hit the headlines back in 2010, the security of industrial control systems has been called into question. Motivation for an attack can range from the relatively unsophisticated ...
  • Yokogawa wins order for first flue gas desulphurisation system in the West Balkans
    February 2018, Yokogawa South Africa, News
    Yokogawa Electric Corporation has announced that it will deliver a control system for a flue gas desulphurisation system that is to be installed at the Ugljevik coal-fired power plant in northeastern ...
  • North American automation market breaking records in 2017
    February 2018, News
    The North American automation market set new records through the first nine months of 2017, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a global advocate for the benefits of automating. ...
  • Integro partners with SICK to enhance vision integration solutions
    February 2018, News
    Integro Technologies announced it has become a SICK Authorized Vision Integration partner serving the United States. As an Authorized Integration Partner, Integro Technologies’ staff is trained on SICK ...
  • BMG and NSK strengthen distribution agreement
    February 2018, Bearing Man Group t/a BMG, News
    BMG and NSK have consolidated a long-standing partnership, with the recent signing of a new distribution agreement that enhances the original contract and augers well for the companies, stakeholders and ...
  • Define your game plan for digital transformation at X-Change 2018
    February 2018, Wonderware Southern Africa, News
    Wonderware Southern Africa’s 26th annual User Conference, X-Change 2018, will return to the picturesque Champagne Sports Resort, from 15-18 April 2018. X-Change has been a success for a quarter of a century ...
  • RJ Connect raise a glass in celebration of their new offices
    February 2018, RJ Connect, News
    After 20 years growing from strength to strength in Ferndale, RJ Connect has moved to an A-Class building in Bromhof, Randburg. The new building has ample space for the growing team, and is focused on ...
  • SICK Automation upgrades luggage ID scanners at OR Tambo International Airport
    February 2018, SICK Automation Southern Africa, News
    SICK Automation recently upgraded luggage identification scanners at OR Tambo International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Africa. The upgrade included replacing SICK’s recently discontinued ...
  • Emerson named Industrial IoT Company of the Year by IoT Breakthrough
    February 2018, Emerson Automation Solutions, News
    Emerson has been named the Industrial IoT Company of the Year by IoT Breakthrough. The award recognises Emerson’s extensive innovation and leadership in driving IIoT technologies and strategies for customers ...
  • Afrivalve achieves level 2 BEE compliance
    February 2018, eDART Slurry Valves, News
    Afrivalve, the trading name for eDART Slurry Valves, has announced that it has increased its BEE compliance to level 2. In order to meet customer requirements, particularly those in the mining sector, ...
  • Information from Siemens: new publications on updates to standards
    February 2018, Siemens Digital Factory & Process Indust. & Drives, News
    Siemens has published two technical texts to provide customers with the latest information on the application of European directives and international standards. The reference work ‘Control Panels Compliant ...
  • Police take down plagiarism ­warehouse in Vietnam
    February 2018, WIKA Instruments, News
    Asian product pirates are as creative as they are unscrupulous with copies of known brand names. WIKA is also affected, which is why the company has taken legal action against the perpetrators. This requires ...

Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd
1st Floor, Stabilitas House
265 Kent Ave, Randburg, 2194
South Africa
Publications by Technews
Dataweek Electronics & Communications Technology
Electronic Buyers Guide (EBG)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions
Hi-Tech Security Business Directory

Motion Control in Southern Africa
Motion Control Buyers’ Guide (MCBG)

South African Instrumentation & Control
South African Instrumentation & Control Buyers’ Guide (IBG)
Terms & conditions of use, including privacy policy
PAIA Manual


    classic | mobile

Copyright © Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved.