Reader Feedback: Celebrating 10 Years With Our Readers

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Control Design magazine, we've devoted this month's Feedback section to letters readers sent in response to articles we've published during the past decade.


10 Year Anniversary“Your points about customer support [‘A Simple Solution to Source Code Problems,” Embedded Intelligence, June/July ’99] seem good, but you may not see the whole picture of what the person supporting the system goes through... A plant is lucky to have one person that has a good background and can troubleshoot. You’d be amazed at the number of highly automated plants we work in where the internal level of support is just not enough. When multiple PLCs are used, we install a DH+ or DH-485 network. This is an excellent way to remotely support the systems we install. My company also provides all drawings and source code to our clients. And, yes, I get the support calls anyway. Short term, our firm absorbs these costs. Long term, we provide service plans to these people. This is a huge opportunity for OEMs to provide needed service, if they can do it cost effectively.”  -- Dan Sheldon, TEI Corp., [letter published Oct/Nov ’99] 


“In your editorial [‘With Energy to Spare,’ Sept. ’01], You didn’t mention another aspect of motor maintenance/repair: a maintenance superintendent has a budget for motor rebuilding, but none for new, more-efficient motors. No questions are asked when a motor goes out for rewinding, but all hell breaks loose when a new, premium-grade motor is bought. Suits have more ways to hold back progress than their bosses know about.”  -- Dick Wendt, PE, Hillsboro, Mo. [letter published Feb/Mar ’02]

“You point out all the supposed advantages of PCs [‘PCs Point the Way,’ Feb/Mar ’02], but fail to mention the most basic problems facing PC-based machine control. Most of these low-cost systems are running MS Windows-based OS. I wouldn’t trust a washing machine if it was running on MS Windows…This isn’t to say that PLCs are totally immune to these problems, but the exposure is far, far less. I can still purchase a PLC 5/40, load my code from five years ago, and not worry about wacky things happening…As a controls engineer, I like to spend my time making the machine work better, not tracking down code/OS/hardware problems. PCs have their place, but it’s not on the factory floor, where the grunt work must get done.”  -- James Balak, controls engineer, Egan Davis-Standard [letter published Apr ’02]

“I agree with most of your observations regarding the dumbing down of operator interfaces [‘Check Your Brain at the Door,’ Apr ’02]. However, I think this a self-limiting trend. There are many places where the operator is going to have to know something about his job. Some years ago, I designed operator interfaces for 4,500-ton stamping presses. I remember a meeting with several GM plant managers, in which a U.S. plant manager declared, ‘We want these presses to be so simple to operate that someone can come in off the street and run one!’ To which I asked, ‘But how is someone off the street going to know what a feed rail is?’ I noticed that the Canadian plant manager was quietly sitting in the far corner, smiling to himself. When I asked his thoughts after the meeting, he said, ‘All our operators go through six weeks of training before they get their hands on a press.’ The Canadian plant manager was being realistic. The U.S. managers were not. This is the phenomenon that disturbs me: managers who will never use an operator interface making unrealistic demands on its abilities.”  -- Gary Sprang, production engineer, U.S. Ceramic Tile Co. [letter published June/July ’02]

“As a packaging machinery OEM, I can tell you that what you alluded to in your editorial [‘Brain Drain Hits Home,’ Mar ’03] is emphatically correct. Not only are we seeing brain drain from the customers, we’re getting hit from the other end: the suppliers. Our suppliers have become not much more than order takers. I’ve been at this more than 22 years, and I’ve seen the changes. I can’t rely on a vendor to suggest a solution to a problem. We’re asked by our customer to make the machine idiot-proof at no extra cost. There are fewer and fewer technicians that are able to diagnose a problem. A good portion of our machines are custom, so we don’t have a standard set of diagnostics. This means more hours at a salaried position. A solution? Until we change the paradigm of ‘maximize profit at all cost,’ I don’t see a solution.”  -- Ed Herrick, electrical engineer, Smurfit-Stone Corp. [letter published May ’03]

“I’m an electrical engineer who understands the knowledgedrain sentiment [‘Brain Drain Hits Home,’ Mar ’03] from a slightly different perspective. We’re looking for electrical technicians who can troubleshoot problems in many different systems, both mechanical and electrical, without requiring constant help at a technical level. If a complicated Eurotherm/Profibus/OPCserver/Wonderware system is installed, we need people who can go a little deeper than the ‘codes,’ so the few engineers here are able to go home sometimes. In these tight money times, we’re reluctant to call in vendors who are charging heavily to visit and may not solve the problem. Our worst case is when they send a green, field-service person, who knows less than we do, but we still have to pay for it.”  -- John Brook, electrical engineer, AET Packaging Films [letter published May ’03]

“I agree with ‘Born to be Engineers’ [Dec ’03]. There are those who go into engineering, but weren’t naturals. I’ve seen them fail repeatedly. To your final statement that it was a good thing to be an engineer: it may no longer be for everyone.”  -- John Crawford, controls engineer, Becthel National [letter published Mar ’04]

“I want to be a Linux control fan, user, and ballyhooer, but I just don’t see the Linux-based, open-controls development environments (except maybe IsaGRAF and a few other European houses) tying motion, I/O, database connectivity and HMI together in a way that’s sellable to management, as well as customers. I don’t have time to develop my own C code (and still make a living) to contribute anything worthwhile to places like Source Forge, so I guess I’ll just continue to sit back and watch places like Control Design to see if any of the fledglings take flight (or swim).”  -- Rick Ahnen, Cardinal Corp. [letter published Aug ’04]