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Who Says Engineers Can’t Talk?

Ever hear the one about the extraverted engineer? He looks at your shoes when he talks to you. Then there are the stereotypes of engineers exemplified by Scott Adams’ cartoon creation, Dilbert: logical, dry, analyzes everything to death,….

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I described all of this to one of my sisters-in-law once. She had just started working as an admin in an engineering department. “Ah, ha,” she exclaimed. Now she understood the people she worked with a little better. The problem is that, like all stereotypes, the truth is much messier. Yes, engineers are more analytical than the median person. But that makes engineers excellent problem solvers. And some engineers actually go into sales or senior management. I wish more went into senior management.

Picture a large hotel ballroom set up for lunch with about 2,500 people, er, engineers, ready for lunch and an awards ceremony. Figure it would be a pretty dull place, right? Wrong. We were recently at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Anaheim in just such a situation. The noise and energy from the conversations occurring in the room made it difficult to hear at times. So much so that our Associate Publisher, Glen Gudino, leaned over and said to me, “Who says engineers can’t talk?”

>> The Company Ladder: The ladder to a management career seems tougher to climb, but automation engineers are the best possible candidates for management. Visit

The halls at both the Emerson Exchange and the Invensys Software Users Group, which was going on at a hotel across the street, were full of the energy of people passionate about what they are doing, sharing ideas. A friend asked at dinner one evening what more could I do to help show young people what a great calling engineering in manufacturing and automation is. If I could only bottle that energy and show it to high school and middle school classes, a transfer of enthusiasm would take place that could transform lives and society.

Engineers lead productivity
This issue of Automation World contains a couple of stories about the results of the abilities of engineers to design and implement new automation systems that serve to make manufacturing a more valuable part of the enterprise.

Jim Koelsch’s article (p. 42) on diagnostics and prognostics shows how engineers—including Ph.D. engineering candidates and post-doctoral researchers—are working to find better ways to discover potential or actual machinery and process faults. Predictive or condition-based maintenance holds the potential to increase availability (which really means increasing productive capacity) while deploying maintenance resources in more efficient and effective ways. Getting more productivity from assets is a driver for economic health of a country.

After Dave Greenfield finished his article (p. 38) on wireless in manufacturing, we were provided information that Emerson Process Management’s ( wireless sensor network instrumentation and sensors based upon WirelessHart have accumulated a total of 1 billion hours of operation. And that is just one vendor. There are many suppliers who are selling WirelessHart products. In just the space of a couple of years, so many engineers have worked to develop the standard, and then the products, and then implemented the systems that wireless technology has become mainstream.

I once had the ultimate engineer’s personality. I remember when, as a freshman engineering student taking a history class, my first test results came back and I received a D. What’s up, I asked the graduate assistant. I answered the questions. Yes, he said, but you didn’t explain them enough. Next test, I filled two blue books with prose and got an A. So, I learned that something that can be answered in 50 words sounds better when you use 600.

Gosh, with that education, I could have become a politician!

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