Jason K. Firth, C.E.T.

Instrumentation, Control, and Automation

5 reasons I gave up being an instrument guy (for now)

Aug 152015

August 15, 2015

I'm Jason Firth.

 

Recently, I accepted a new role within my organization for a while: I'm assisting with a project to deploy a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. My role is to bring maintenance expertise to the project specific to the plant I'm stationed at.

When I told my team about it, my partner was confused: "Why don't you want to be an instrument guy anymore?", he asked.

In fact, it's exactly because I'm an instrument guy and because I plan to continue being an instrument guy that I accepted the role!

Let's look at some of my reasons.

 

1. Instrument technicians are information mongers.

There's no two ways to put this: Instrument Techs, or at least good instrument techs, are information mongers. Every piece of information we gather is another tool in our belt that we might make use of.

This project is going to leave me and my shop with comprehensive lists regarding equipment and maintenance for everything on site. We're going to have access to more people and more information than we ever would have had as just instrument guys. That sort of information is invaluable at moments you'd never have imagined -- because until you have it, you never consider it.

Everything is connected, and the more information you have, the easier you can make the connections yourself. The more you can make those connections on your own, the more effective you can be.

 

2. Potential synergies between these two roles.

I always hate to use the S-word, but it's absolutely true. I'll explain.

Work that's been done as part of other completely unrelated projects suddenly becomes relevant, and you don't have to do anything but cross-reference. This means the project benefits from that work. Work I previously did on SCADA, establishing equipment taxonomies and working within constraints, suddenly becomes extremely important because it's already done.

As well, work that's done today may have a dramatic impact on future trades projects. In particular, having a say as to how business critical systems are set up on Day 1 means those same systems are structured in a way that might facilitate the information's re-use later. All it takes is a little vision, and you can make everyone's life easier in those future projects.

 

3. The wrong person doing this can sink entire shops.

The Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) aspect of ERP is one of the most important elements of a modern shop. It facilitiates communication between operations and trades, it stores information about the history of work done, it keeps track of costs and of time spent on jobs, and it plays a key role in material management.

If the wrong person is setting up the system, communication between operations and trades may become ineffective, history may be lost or unusuable, costs can't be tracked, and materials can't be found. All this adds up to a skilled worker not spending time using their skills.

 

4. The right person doing this can let us spend more time being tradesmen.

Along the same lines, if the right person sets up the system to its potential, communcations between operations and trades (and between trades and other trades) may be enhanced, history may become a key tool in predicting failures or detecting current failures, costs and time spent on jobs can be effectively measured and managed, and materials will always be where they need to be when they're needed.

Modern ERP systems also allow supervisors to assign jobs to certain individuals, and to allow those individuals to see their work queues on mobile devices, so the work is always at their fingertips. They can allow test results to be stored and historized immediately without additional paperwork. They can allow work completion comments to be added directly when a job is complete, increasing the speed and accuracy of the history. They can even allow documentation to be carried around for instant access to key information.

All this adds up to one thing: Tradesmen spending less time on paperwork, and more time on trades. That's good for the business, it's good for the tradesmen, and it makes everyone's life a little easier.

 

5. Ultimately, you need a voice from the front.

There's a lot of perfectly reasonable sounding suggestions out there.

It's easy to sit around a desk and come up with this stuff, and the technology is amazing, you can implement anything you want. The problem is, how will it affect someone on the front line? It's those people who are going to keep your plant running day to day, and even smart people, with the best of intentions, can make a decision that works very well in theory, but is disasterous in practice. Someone from the front line is absolutely neccessary. You need a canary to tell you when things could get bad.

 

Thanks for reading!

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