Ethics

Ever find yourself in a situation where you discovered a problem with a product or process and you were moved to write a memo? Ever get told not to put stuff in writing? Early in my career in product development, I discovered that a product we were using didn’t meet certain Federal standards (it was a long time ago, I don’t remember details). My boss came over to my office and said, “Don’t ever put stuff like this in writing.” I guess my boss should have gotten a job at SmithKline. According to this story in The New York Times there is one heck of a paper trail about the safety of its leading drug. Makes you pause and consider the ethics of the issue from a variety of standpoints. Especially, what if it happened to you?

Costs

Another lesson I learned in that same job years ago had to do with cost reduction (institutionalized now as Lean). Part of my job was to analyze the bill of materials and plant practices in order to find ways to reduce cost. One old timer told me, “Focus on material. If you take out a dollar of material, you save a dollar. If you reduce the labor content of a process, in all likelihood we will not lay off a person, so we’re still paying the wage. So you didn’t save anything.” In other words, make sure you know the real results of your cost cutting.

There are reasons to cut labor costs, of course, but mainly by making each person more productive. Kevin Meyer at the Evolving Excellence manufacturing blog looks at whether labor is a significant cost. Hint, it’s usually not.

Wind Power

Wind power holds much promise for helping solve some of our energy needs. It does have a problem in that often its maximum generation is counter-cyclical with peak demand. Therefore, it may not be useful for peak demand situations where more ineffecient generators are used.

However, Mary Jones has started a blog news site to ponder and promote wind power. I’ve subscribed. You might want to look at it, too.

Diagnostic Tools

I recently wrote about a software tool that reaches out to find data about your computer operating systems and applications in order to keep you up to date and out of trouble. Here’s a tool to help you out on the control system level.

ExperTune’s PlantTriage Control System Monitoring Software now has tools to diagnose the health of instruments, valves and controls.

The Valve Health measurement, for example, combines information about control valve sizing, application and mechanical performance, to give an overall picture of the valve’s health. PlantTriage’s “context-sensitive drill-down” also provides the next level of detail, including measures of each specific aspect of performance, such as “% valve stiction.”

Likewise, Sensor Health uses real-time data to look at common symptoms of instrumentation problems. The Controller Health tools focus on aspects of actual control performance, including variability, inability to hold setpoint and dynamic response.

The new tools are included in the latest release of ExperTune’s PlantTriage software.


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