At the upcoming June 10-12, 2009 Automatic Control Conference, Emerson’s Greg McMillan and Terry Blevins will be presenting, Bridging the Gap between Academia and Industry. Describing this session, Greg wrote on the ModelingAndControl.com blog:
The first semester I taught the Chemical Engineering course “Introduction to Process Dynamics and Control” at Washington University in Saint Louis as an adjunct professor, the students could not relate to my attempt to introduce practical plant applications and considerations in the normal course of Laplace transforms and bode plots. The second semester I added a virtual plant that consisted of a DeltaV DCS running in the Simulate mode integrated with HYSYS dynamic process simulations for each student. I later configured most of the process simulations directly in control studio. I was amazed how fast the students learned how to work in the graphical configuration environment and operator interface. All they needed was a few screen prints on navigation to get them started. Several of the students subsequently got intern or permanent positions doing configuration at the local DCS industry center. I had these students with experience in the automation industry come back to speak to the next class. The result was a dramatic turnaround in appreciation and understanding of what they would face in industry. The students decided on their own to go online to find and buy tee-shirts with Duncan, the DCS mascot, windsurfing. I ended up buying tee-shirts too and we all posed for a group photo by one of the students.
This got me thinking how technology has impacted the way we learn. For most of us mid-career and later, learning involved the journey Greg attempted in his first round with the class. We’d patiently learn parts and pieces with the hope that it would all be tied together in the end and become understandable.
He realized that this method was not effective in the world where answers to anything seem but a Google search away. The students he was teaching also had used near life-like video games for the better part of their teenage years. The effective way was to show with near life-like process simulations the big picture first and start the hands on process early. In the presentation, the authors describe this learning process: Explore ∗ Discover ∗ Prototype ∗ Demo ∗ Improve ∗ Deploy ∗ Educate
In the paper that accompanies their presentation, Greg and Terry describe this virtual plant:
The “virtual DCS” is not an emulation or translation but is a virtual replication of a complete DCS with all of the standard and optional advanced tools. Control system trend charts, displays, configurations are exchanged between a “hardware DCS” and “virtual DCS” by standard copy, import, export, and download functions. The incorporation of process models in a “virtual DCS” creates a “virtual plant”, which offers an opportunity to integrate and build process knowledge with the “state of the art” advanced tools for Process Analytical Technology (PAT) and Advanced Process Control (APC)…
The entire lineup of Bridging the Gap presentations looks quite impressive and includes professors from the University of Texas at Austin, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Last month, I covered the Rose-Hulman unit operations presentation.
If you’re responsible or involved in the process of educating tomorrow’s process manufacturing engineers, this might be a conference for you.