Prepare to Advance Your Automation Career

Jan. 23, 2012
Gregory K. McMillan, book author, blogger and retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto, shares concepts that have personally guided his career.

Gregory K. McMillan is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. He was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis, an ISA Fellow, and he has received many awards. McMillian is also the author of numerous books on process control, his most recent being “Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements for the Process Industry.” 

Along with colleague Terry Blevins, McMillian has been documenting his knowledge and experience at a blog known as “Modeling and Control.” This is a good blog to either subscribe to or visit often.

On a recent post ( McMillian wrote that he is working on a new book “101 Ways to a Successful Automation Career.” As a way to introduce this book, here is some of his advice. He notes, “I came up with concepts that have personally guided my career.”

  1. Find the most knowledgeable people in your company and at the suppliers of the systems you use and seek their advice. Engineers love to solve problems and share their expertise. If you have an intelligent question and take a respectful approach, you can get significant guidance and key ideas.
  2. Read a few pages each week of ISA books, handbooks and articles. If you invest a couple of hours a week, the knowledge will build on itself. I would particularly read anything by Béla Lipták, Greg Shinskey, and Cecil Smith, says McMillian.
  3. Be a good listener. Take notes and only ask questions after long pauses, giving the supplier of knowledge the chance to change the route of the conversation.
  4. Look for creative opportunities to improve plant profitability. Look for ways to increase production rate, improve product quality, and reduce energy use.
  5. Be wary of ways to reduce automation system costs. “My biggest mistakes were the result of trying to eliminate instrumentation or use cheaper valves and sensors,” he says.
  6. Investigate special opportunities as an extracurricular activity. Extra effort at home when inspired may be enough to get an idea formulated. Once the idea appears detailed and useful, you can propose it as an opportunity on the job.
  7. Share the idea and give ample credit to associates and management. Document the idea in a memo but follow-up with a lot of personal involvement of the people you need to implement the solution.
  8. Don’t be self-limiting in your requests for money and time or attendance at conferences. Most engineers approach their manager essentially saying they probably can’t do something when they should be giving a strong positive idea of what this means personally to them and to the company, manager and group.
  9. Document the benefits of improvements. Get the data before and after the implementation of your idea.
  10. Find and implement opportunities for online metrics relating to profitability. Computing the ratio online of synchronized energy use rate, heat transfer rate, raw material use rate, and reagent use rate to production rate can provide an incredible wealth of bottom line evidence for maintenance and improvements in the process and the automation system.
  11. Write and present papers showing what you accomplished, being careful not to fall victim to concept #8. The recognition is good for you and the company and helps you think through the solution logically and comprehensively. Continually learning and sharing is the key to advancing your career and our profession.  Perceived mistakes are our greatest lessons.
  12. Demonstrate and prototype improvements by dynamic models. In the development of the dynamic simulation, you will learn much about what can go right and wrong. Dynamic simulation with trend charts showing improvements makes a convincing case for management and enables extensive testing of your idea. You can start by configuring simple dynamic models graphically using standard function blocks in your DCS (distributed control system) to try out process control improvements.

An Automation Career Technical engineering skills may not always be enough to improve plant profits. Read how writing skills are part of the formula for a successful engineering career. Visit

Gary Mintchell, [email protected], is Co-founder and Editor in Chief of Automation World. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Understanding and Using E-Stops

E-stops, or emergency stop switches, are used to ensure machine as well as personnel safety. They are used to provide a consistent and predictable failsafe response on a wide ...

Demystifying motor disconnect switches: What are they and how are they used?

From conveyor belts to drum mixers, motors are used in virtually every industrial application to drive machinery. Equipment downtime is the main motivation behind monitoring and...

Full Line of DIN Rail Terminal Blocks Video

Altech offers an extensive line of DIN Rail Terminal Blocks including all major Connection Technologies available in the industry to meet requirements for a vast variety of applications...

The Value of Integrating DIN Rail Cylindrical Fuse Holders Into Your Designs

What short circuit currents do I have to consider when purchasing a DIN rail cylindrical fuse holder? That data is available from the manufacturer. For example, Altech cylindrical...