Running the plant has become a matter of adopting technology and adapting to it. In 2011, the world of automation and control saw a wide range of technology advances, from software to integrated safety, and from cloud computing to collaboration between control and IT.
2012 will see an expansion of new technologies as tools introduced in 2011 get deployed. The leading technology -- whether wireless systems or diagnostics -- is going mostly into greenfield plants, and most of those tend to be in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America -- low-cost labor areas. Even so, some of the new technology is also appearing in brownfield developments in North America and Europe.
What we'll see through the deployment of new technology is higher productivity, greater throughput, and safer plants. These developments in technology are beginning to draw young engineers. After all, the plant can now be run like a video game. Older engineers have been leery of new technology, while the recently graduated engineers find the technology the most attractive aspect of running a plant.
Click the image below to start a slideshow highlighting automation & control technologies that will flourish in 2012:
Increasing Simulation in Automation
Plant updates can be tested before operators throw the switch on the control system. The use of simulation will likely expand considerably in 2012. Simulation is being used in new plant development, plant updates, and in configuring the plant for new products or for greater optimization.
The advantage is the ability to test the system before it is deployed. The result is a significant reduction in set-up costs -- both labor and time Ė- and greater optimization. Plant operators report that the reduction in set-up costs alone covers the cost of using simulation. This photo shows an example of simulation used to configure robots.
(Source: Simx Simulation.)
The move online has been a long and sometimes tortured road for many publishing companies and publications, both in and out of tech. Writing for the web has been one challenge, but I think one that's been at least as tough is figuring out how to shift the print ad revenue model to online revenue sources. I know there was a lot of discussion about that in the early days.
Yes, things have changed dramatically in the last decade, especially in the last five years. The dot com pioneers were correct that they were changing the world. Many of them, however, got crushed in the process.
For technology journalists, opportunities have proliferated for those who moved online. Design News is a good example of journalism moving online. The print journalists -- especially those at newspapers -- either learned to write for the web or moved to a new profession.
Even though tech writers, non-journalists, took the biggest hit at that time, all technology writers suffered including journalists, as you apparently did, too. That's the last time I ever did any documentation-type tech writing. The industry basically morphed and shifted to people who know a lot of programming, as everything went online. Yes, it's a very different world with entirely different terms and even a different dialect, you might say.
Yes, I actually use the same terms. There was something about the context of one of your messages that made it seem you meant technology journalists when you said tech writers. I'm right next two a national lab here in Albuquerque, so we have an army of tech writers working for Sandia Labs or its suppliers and partners. Plus there's a bunch just north of here at Los Alamos Labs. I find that tech writing is a different discipline altogether from journalism, barely sharing the same language.
The terms can be very con fusing. That term, tech writers, has always thrown people outside the industry. The term, and the phenomenon, were apparently confined primarily to Silicon Valley. I usually use "technology writers" to mean the larger group of people who write about technology, whether its journalism, PR/marcom writing or tech docs. Many of us have done some of each during our checkered careers, and in SV, one's career is likely to have been highly checkered.
OK, I get it, Ann. I thought you meant journalists when you used tech writers. I remember there was tons of work in tech writing for documentation. Most of those I knew -- as you pointed out -- were from a liberal arts background. I did a bit of that in the early 80s for a company that transferred library records on online format for systems like Dialog, LexisNexis and McGraw Hill -- way before the WWW became public (thanks Al Gore).
The tech writers I meant were the documentation people, not technology writers who are journalists or marcom writers. It was a huge Silicon Valley industry that began in the late 70s/early 80s, and consisted primarily of liberal arts majors who weren't being hired elsewhere, although there were also some wannabe engineers, and some were housewives (back when those existed in large numbers). Some of us started in the marcom end, some went right into documentation, a few had already been programmers. It was all print back then, so you had to be good at a lot of things besides writing. BTW, the same basic populations had earlier been recruited to become programmers and computer salespeople in the late 60s/early 70s. All of these industries were 99% contractors. And documentation, in particular, could also be done at home.
Nice piece of history. Thanks. You probably also remember the army of new tech writers that was assembled when the dot com boom soared in 1999. I remember they were called the 99ers. They came mostly from the newspaper world and many were fresh out of J school. They all lost their jobs in 2000. Me included. I was with E-Commerce Business (once a sister pub to Design News).
Right after tech writers were told to become accountants and real estate agents, engineers were told to become accountants and real estate agents. A year or so later, engineers were becoming tech writers, as the job descriptions for writers had "suddenly" changed. This was in Silicon Valley, and I don't know to what extent this all happened elsewhere. I would not have believed this if I hadn't seen it myself. And it was clearly a humiliating experience, so they may not have talked about it much. Also, that was pre-Internet days.
These engineers, BTW, were all senior engineers, which fact did not escape their notice. This was the last phase of downsizing in SV (and elsewhere), which flushed out many, many middle managers with experience (and higher salaries and retirement incomes/pensions which then disappeared), and then the specialists, such as engineers and marketing people, with experience (and...). And while some of those engineers were replaced by younger ones from other countries here, many were replaced by younger foreign ones in Asia. At one point, the buzz in SV was that only software engineering remained in the US. Many younger people, at least out here, were discouraged from going into EE or computer science because of this. The so-called "shortage" is a more recent phenomenon. We had some dialog about this in another comment's thread. To this day I don't believe there was a shortage then.
I hadn't heard that about herding engineers into other careers, Ann. Wow. I always thought there was a shortage of engineers in the United States.
I know a good portion of production engineering has shifted to Asia to follow the manufacturing, but I was under the impression that design engineering had remained in North America and Europe (with a few exceptions such as cell phones and laptops). I've heard that companies don't want their design engineering in Asia because of potential IP theft.
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