Emerson’s Aaron Crews joins our continuing podcast series on 5 Questions for an Emerson Expert. Aaron leads the Modernization Solutions and Consulting team. The team creates wiring and control solutions, develops engineering tools, and provides subject matter expertise to minimize cost and risk in control system and safety instrumented system modernization projects.
Jim: Hi, I’m Jim Cahill and welcome to our five questions for an Emerson Expert podcast series. Today, I’m joined by Aaron Crews. Aaron leads Emerson’s control system modernization and consulting group. They work with clients to minimize risk and cost in distributed control systems and safety instrumented system modernization projects. Welcome, Aaron.
Aaron: Hey Jim, how is it going?
Jim: Hey, it’s great. Let’s start out, I like to ask everyone, as you were growing up what led you to the field of science, technology, engineering and math, you know, STEM-related, and I guess specifically chemical engineering, in your case?
Aaron: Well, I think, for me, I’ve always liked math and science, it’s just something that I was good at. When I was in high school, the high school I went to, I think, for the lot of the previous like 10 years or maybe longer, they had won the state championship in UIL Math & Science. And so, there was like this rich history and stuff like that so, you know, besides the sports and stuff like all of that in high school, I also competed in math and science which is kind of interesting.
So, when I was looking at college and trying to decide on how it’s gonna apply that, I was just like math, I’m not gonna be a math professor, how can I do some more applied stuff? And so, I thought engineering would be good. And then it’s just a matter of what’s your favorite? Science or whatever? So like chemical engineering and put them together. And then, you know, as it turned out it’s that’s one of the best paying fields out there and stuff like that. So, you know, when you’re going to college and try to get a job, that’s a good motivator.
Jim: Well, it’s great to hear that we’re not just known for football here in the state but we compete at math and science, as well. So, I guess from that as a chemical engineer, what led you into the field of process automation?
Aaron: Well, for me, I think I had a little bit of exposure in an internship at USDA, of all places. So, back to West Texas where I’m from, working in the fields, the cotton fields and everything there, I found a little bit of technology where we were measuring temperatures and humidity and setting all of that back, wirelessly back to our lab. I thought, “Well, this is pretty cool,” you know, just collecting data and then closing the loop and actually hitting a button on a computer making something happen in real life, seem like pretty cool.
But it wasn’t until I went to a career fair at [Texas] A&M and I ran into a company called Fisher-Rosemount at the A&M engineering career fair, that I realized I was even in a profession. So, I got pretty excited just hearing that people actually did the sorts of things that I had done in USDA on much broader scale. And so, that kinda set me in motion towards that field. It seemed like something that was really interesting. And it was a long kinda circuitous path but here I am, I made all of that to Fisher-Rosemount and now, of course, Emerson.
Jim: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear everyone’s path into it and then lot of diversity there, well that’s really cool. In the world of control system and safety instrumented system modernizations, can you tell us about any recent or challenges that you may have heard from some of our customers?
Aaron: Well, definitely, you know, these projects when we’re gonna do a modernization project, we’re putting in, you know, we’re applying engineering and technology and all of this stuff to try and improve the customer’s operations. They’re trying to upgrade their infrastructure to get more information, improve the safety, improve operational aspects of their plant. But as you can imagine replacing the whole control system infrastructure of a running plant is pretty challenging and it’s brought with risk, right?
So, we’ve got all these best practices and things that we’ve come up with over time that really been built around how to reduce risk and how to actually get the benefits that we’re trying to get out of these projects. And all of those are really good but because you don’t want any risk or very, very low risk and you don’t want to make any mistakes, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of planning and therefore a lot of money and a lot of time to do these projects and do it right.
So, the thing that I’m most excited about recently really is looking at the project itself, and instead of just applying the technology and the engineering to the plant in order to improve operations, applying some technology and engineering to the idea of how we actually do the project and make the project itself more efficient. So, it’s been cool here in Austin to work with the folks who make DeltaV and DeltaV SIS and our engineering tools and a lot of the partner solutions that we’ve got, and everything else to actually apply some of that technology and make the projects go smoother, faster and still eliminate all that risk that we’re trying to do in the first place.
So, it’s this changing of even how we do the projects, so going beyond best practices that gets me excited because best practices are cool but they’re kind of invented by somebody else. But, you know, what gets us engineer as excited as solving new problems, doing things even better over time. So this is, you know, one of the things we’ve been focusing on and it’s been a lot of fun.
Jim: That’s interesting because, you know, all that effort to optimize the process and thinking of it project-by-project and moving it back to optimizing the way projects are planned and executed and, you know, treating that that same level of optimization, that’s really exciting. With all that you do here at work, what about outside of it, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Aaron: Well, I have three young sons so they take up quite a bit of my spare time for sure just, you know, spending time with my family and all of their activities involved in them and all the cool stuff that we get to do here in, you know, Austin and going to UT and around town and stuff like that. But then, outside of that for me personally, I mean, obviously, I like gadgets and technology and stuff like that. And so, I do a lot of photography and that sort of thing.
And then probably over the last few years, I’ve really had to focus on health and fitness and just looking at some of the broader challenges that we’ve got out there in terms of being better to ourselves out in the right balance, between how we take care of ourselves, how we take care of our community environment and stuff like that. So, I’m pretty active in like CrossFit, in cooking and dialing, you know, experimenting with all of that kind of stuff, and then just last week I just did my first obstacle course race. So, I think that’s gonna be something that’s we’ll see more of them in future, as well.
Jim: That’s really good because you think them out but time spent in front of computers as we work here to balance that out, one be active with the kids and then, you know, also be fit, nutrition and everything else. That’s good, sounds like a good path to stay healthy for a while.
Aaron: Yeah, and what you realize is that the more you take care of yourself in your mind and, you know, continually learning and getting the blood pumping and everything else, you start come up with all kinds of crazy ideas that you can bring into the job.
Jim: Yeah, that’s great. And I guess this is my final question for you, for some of the people new into process automation, what advice would you have for them to accelerate their learning curve?
Aaron: Well, you know, the thing about process automation is, it’s so broad. And it can be daunting to say, “Well, you’re gonna be an expert in process automation,” because what you’re gonna be an expert in databases, controls, process optimization kind of stuff. The system itself, project engineering activities, graphic design, system architecture, there’s all kinds of things, right, they go into that so there’s a lot to cover. So, especially early in the career, your career, there’s really two main things that I would focus on. One is definitely constantly growing and learning. And I really have gotten a kick out of this career so far, because pretty much every day, I’m doing something for the very first time.
So, I feel like as long as I’m doing something for the first time, then I must be learning something. So as long as you can keep that kind of mentality, you’re gonna grow and expand and really develop both in prep and in-depth in the ways that you need to this kind of career. And then the other thing is just…especially starting out your career, you can really be hampered by fear and you just not…a lot of times we place value on what we know. And so when we don’t know something, we try and avoid it and that runs counter to this idea of growth and expanding your knowledge in the way that I was talking about.
So, if you’re afraid of something, that might be a good indicator you should go and try it out, or if you’re afraid of talking to someone there is good chance that the guy has something that they can offer you. So, one of the things that I’ve really realized through my career is that everybody is just so open and willing to share. It’s a lot of fun to collaborate with all the extremely bright people that are in this field.
Jim: Yeah. You are so right. Everyone has, you know, such level of depth. That’s one of the things I really enjoy about working here at Emerson, everything. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Aaron.
Aaron: Thank you.