Knowing automation

Ask about automation….

An ubiquitous word in today’s technically and technologically aware world is “Automation”. Everybody has a vague idea as to what it means but understanding it is another matter.

Automation Made Easy

Automation Made Easy

Written and reviewed by experts in their fields, the International Society of Automation (ISA) publishes authoritative and thorough technical publications that focus on real world application of technologies and methodologies with the necessary theory for a complete understanding of the subject.

Many things are incorporated under the umbrella of this word, instrumentation, control, measurement, test and all the parameters that are capable of measurement and control these days. Automation is used in virtually everything in our lives from the washing machine, the car, the telephone, your computer. It is used in the manufacture and supply of almost everything we use, or consume, food, medicines and fuels. But what is it really?

Automation made easy with the subtitle “Everything you wanted to know about automation – and need to ask…” is a timely work jointly by automation experts Peter Martin and Greg Hale. Peter has spent almost thirty years immersed in the sector and was named as one of top fifty most innfluential inovators in control and automation by INTECH magazine and a Hero of Manufacturing by FORTUNE magazine. He has also written and contributed to other works in the field. Greg Hale on the other hand has been with INTECH, the leading world periodical in Automation for almost ten years and has many years behind him as a journalist both in the technical and non-technical press.

Peter Martin

Peter Martin

Gregory Hale

Gregory Hale

This volume is aimed at those many people who are parachuted into positions and find that automation forms an integral and vital part of the milieu of the plant – people who indeed have technical experience say in IT or computer technology, or have management experience or perhaps have neither but have accounting or financial experience. This book is also for those who have a limited experience of automation in one of the disciplines that have been amalgamated under this “catch-all” word – areas like instrumentation. electronics, maintenance, plant operation, and computer science.

This book is constructed in a way that leads logically from the most basic subject matter to more sophisticated concepts. Thus somebody who has a basic knowledge is recommended to skip the earlier chapters to those which are of particular interest to them. However I think it would benefit all readers to at least skim through these earlier chapters. They are well written and easily read.

One of the nice things about this book is the chapter titles. These are for the most part in two parts. One part is the “official” title as it were. Thus the chapter “SCADA Systems” is also titled “Beyond four walls!” and “Control of Batch Processes: Let them eat cake.” This is an attractive feature.

The book is a lovely mix of homely catchphrases, – “Your birthday cake is a perfect example of a batch process at its best!” – explanations and meaty theory. The drawings in the text – some could have better print quality but all are reasonably clear – illustrate well the concept that is being explained chapter on chapter.

The chapter on “Process Control Systems: A theory of Evolution” is a good journey through the growth of process control from the simple mechanical control system to the latest digital computer-based control systems from the early 1900s to the year 2000 and beyond.

The final chapter, “The Bottom Line: Automation’s Business Impact” ought to be made compulsory reading for both automation professionals and accountants. They make a rather obvious point that nearly all automation professionals know but few accountants realise: “…cost accounting systems in industrial operations typically support the financial reporting requirements of the organisation and not operations management.” Reminds one of the phrase: “We would be able to get our work done if the so-and-so customers didn’t get in the way…”

There are a few more points that I liked about this book. Each chapter concludes with a small list of questions. For instance the chapter on “Automation System Security: Checkmate” there are questions like: “What is the fundamental difference between safety management systems and automation system security?” and “How did the introduction of open computer networks, such as the Internet, impact automation system security?”. Or in the Batch Process chapter: “Name and briefly describe the two basic components of a batch recipe.” Do you know? Maybe then this book is for you!

Another feature that makes this 220 page book useful is its 22 page glossary of terms. I hesitate to say that this alone would make this book useful but am tempted. Here we have pages of simple explanations of the terms that trip off the lips of dyed in the wool automation professionals, answers if you like to the questions mere mortals are afraid to ask!.

This book is a very useful tool to the person who wants to understand what is going on in the plant and how to relate it to those who ought to know but are too busy to find out for themselves.

It is easy to read and assimilate, and, as a primer or basic introduction to automation it will be hard to beat. It lives up to what it says on the cover,“Everything you wanted to know about automation – and need to ask!”

Automation Made Easy: Everything You Wanted to Know about Automation-and Need to Ask Peter G. Martin, Gregory Hale; ISA; ISBN/ID: 978-1-936007-06-6; Price: US$79.00
(ISA members receive a discount on all ISA publications)

• See also Automation Made Easy: Everything You Wanted to Know about Automation and Need to Ask on ISA Interchange. (12/1/2011)

• April 2012: Automation Made Easy is now available as an e-book from ISA

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