Further to the computer dependence issue…
I heard a great story the other day. It seems that the student pilot was in the cockpit, waiting to take off on his final check-ride before his solo. The instructor noticed some items missing from the student’s kit. “Where is your ruler and chart book?” the instructor said. The student pilot pulled out a pocket GPS and said, “Don’t need those anymore, I’ve got this.”
The instructor asked to see it, looked it over, and then removed the batteries and handed it back. “Okay,” he said, “your GPS batteries just died. What are you going to do?”
I had that same sinking feeling when I heard a few years ago that the Navy and Coast Guard were going to stop teaching celestial navigation to officers and petty officers.
I don’t even own a slide rule any more, and I haven’t got a clue where I could lay my hands on a table of natural logarithms. Yet any decent engineer thirty years ago had memorized the first 10,000 logarithms.
Machines and software are wonderful, yes. But what do we do when they break down and nobody remembers how to do it the old fashioned way?
So who’s an expert?
Sometimes I think the definition of an expert really is “a person at least a day’s travel from home.” Here, we are trying to make the final tweaks on our Ask the Expert pages at ControlGlobal.com. The way the module works is that we have one expert on each thing, and they get all the questions about that topic.
Oh, well. Battle plans seldom survive contact with the enemy. So it is here. You see, we got very lucky. I was able to persuade our Uber-Expert, Bela Liptak, to agree to “moderate” the Ask the Expert section of our website.
This, as he says, will allow people to stop paying him consulting fees by asking questions on the website. He’s gone and roped in most of the contributing authors (including yours truly) of the monumental Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, 4th Edition, to assist in answering those questions.
This is likely to be a significant new resource for the process automation professional, if we can only figure out how to jigger the software to allow it to happen.
Stop by and ask him a question.
Patent wars…oh how fun! It seems that progress in applying RFID to manufacturing may be delayed based on the outcome of the war between Symbol and Intermec. In a report in eWeek’s enews http://ct.enews.eweek.com/rd/cts?d=1
While in other RFID news, RSA has found new problems with security, and Forrester Research has published a new paper indicating that there are more problems than expected with the new technology.
Watch this space.
For several days now, I’ve been having severe laptop problems…and I don’t use a desktop computer any more. My laptop is becoming increasingly unreliable, and right now, it is “Not Dead Yet” like the plague victim from Spamalot.
This has concentrated me quite forcefully on the issue of computer dependence in manufacturing. No plant can be run without its control system any longer, and in many cases, nobody remembers how to do it the old fashioned way.
This can be a real Achilles’ Heel, especially if you have a system working at near capacity, and requiring 95% or better availability.
Most redundant control systems are fairly expensive, and difficult to engineer and keep running, since they were intended for the enterprise IT world, which fairly often works “working hours” and can do maintenance and re-boot systems on the weekends.
At the Iconics Summit last week, I saw a very interesting and relatively inexpensive take on redundancy for single computer control systems: Marathon Technologies. Essentially, they run two completely independent computers, with identical software and hard drives, in lockstep. You can even have the two computers separated physically so that if one building is demolished, the other will continue to operate.
I wish I had a redundant laptop right now.