Knowledge Transfer Challenges Between Process and Control Engineering
As companies seek a stronger competitive edge within their respective industries, process and control engineers are being tasked with creating automated control systems that improve processes and performance. Knowledge transfer between these two groups often present challenges that must be addressed.
Meeting in the Middle
Process engineers define how a facility should operate to achieve maximum efficiency. In process engineering the focus is on developing a process and includes procedural steps, quality checks, work instructions for operators and associated staff and other steps that lay out a step by step process. Control engineers then program PLCs (programmable logic controllers) according to the definitions provided by the process engineers.
Getting There from Here
While it would seem an intuitive response that these two disciplines would mesh into a cohesive and seamless deployment, the reality is that there are often challenges to knowledge transfer in designing the system and in programming it:
- Micro vs. Macro: One challenge is that process engineers work at a macro level when defining the facility system while the control engineers need precise micro level understanding of the system to correctly interpret requirements.
- Language Barriers: This isn’t an issue of English vs. Spanish or French vs. Swahili, rather the difference in “language” spoken by different disciplines. Process engineers and control engineers may speak a different cultural language inherent to their specific skill sets. Many projects have suffered setbacks based on different wording, complex interdisciplinary cultures and personal preferences that delay or complicate the transfer of knowledge.
- Standards: In many cases, process engineers may use broad terms without a standardized format and without specific supporting tools to map their vision, while control engineers may misinterpret definitions and code errors into the system.
- Speed Kills: While every company’s project managers feel the pressure of deploying an industrial control system, often, process and control engineers are not afforded the time to sit down and bridge the differences and gaps between the envisioned process and the required controls for production.
Best Solutions Usually Equal Best Practices
While no system is perfect, the best solution employs best practices that use relatable and intuitive steps to bridge the gaps in knowledge transfer. Clearly formatting definitions understandable by both groups will help address differences in a micro versus macro approach to their respective tasks. Additionally, settling on standard definitions and protocols to eliminate vague and incomplete process requirements will mitigate differences in cultural “language” between process and control engineers. Finally, in-depth and well-planned project meetings that work out elements of the process design and allow control engineers time to understand the coding required can prevent the project from moving at a pace that hinders rather than improves performance.