Book review: Automation Made Easy
This month is a bit of a departure from my usual software review. Instead, I’m reviewing a book that I believe every budding automation and control engineer should read – Automation Made Easy, by Peter Martin and Gregory Hale.
Factory automation is a very complex subject. I have been in this business for more than 30 years, and the amount of technologies that have come and gone is as interesting as the technologies that remain and, of course, those yet to come.
We have a problem with our youngsters, though. How do we get them engaged in engineering and automation?
ISA (International Society of Automation) has represented our industry since the beginning of time, and is championing the quest for getting kids interested in automation. Hale is the editor of the ISA monthly magazine, and is bent on trying to make a difference. I think that he and Martin have succeeded with this book.
I believe that this book should be required reading for every high school student, so that they can at least understand what the possibilities are.
The book is 200 pages long, with a bibliography of eight and a half pages – that’s a lot of research. A large glossary accompanies the text, which is a necessity for the rookie. Some of the initial chapters may be boring for those with experience, but certainly not for those who are new to automation.
Not surprisingly, this book doesn’t assume anything. For instance, factory automation needs a process to automate. They explain what a process is (by using beer as an example) and the different kinds of processes, in a language that everyone can understand.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. The book uses concepts and terminology that may be foreign to some, but with some additional research, that possible hurdle can be jumped.
The first few chapters introduce the reader to various concepts and visions. Continuous processes versus discrete processes are easy for us old guys, but the newbie gets a thorough explanation from the authors. The review questions at the end of each chapter are very good in capturing the essence of each chapter, and help the reader track down the important points.
They did a good job introducing the concepts of process control, closed loop control and open loop control. Batch processing is also covered well.
Then I lost something. Chapter 6 deals with advanced process control (APC). Cascade and feedforward control concepts are introduced, and it is a big jump from the previous chapters. The authors are trying to provide a solid platform, but there is a leap that is needed here.
All of a sudden, concepts such as lag time and dead time are introduced; not so basic anymore. They do a good job of presenting the material, so my argument isn’t with that, just that one may have difficulty in the transition. Some off-book research may need to be done. If they covered everything in a linear fashion, the book would be 1,000 pages long!
Loop optimization and simulation are introduced next, and there are some very old concepts presented that are still valid today.
Then, they introduce the real meat of factory automation – software – and, yes, I’m biased.
Safety, SCADA, HMI, MES and ERP are all introduced in a way that will keep the reader engaged. There is also a chapter on systems integration, which will be of interest to the self-motivated.
The final frontier in the book deals with business issues that automation interfaces with. The concept of the factory floor and automation being connected to the bottom line is something that has emerged over the last decade.
I am impressed with the fabric that these two guys have woven. They have used their obvious experience, along with a smooth transition structure to the modern day stuff, to help youngsters better understand where things have come from, where they are, and where they may end up.
I was surprised to see little coverage of fieldbus systems and network protocols, but that’s just me.
This book is an easy read. The technical stuff is very low key, and an excellent launching point for a budding automation and control engineer. It is available for purchase at ISA.org.
Jeremy Pollard has been in the industrial automation industry for more than 25 years. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and educator in the field. You can reach him at email@example.com.