Process automation a profession in itself

`The push to higher education that comes from society should not ignore technical skills that are needed by all levels of engineering’ by Alan Reeve

Bart de Steur is the current president of the Institute of Measurement and Control (5,000+ UK members), past president of FEANI, the 50,000 strong Federation Europeene d’Association Nationales d’Ingenieurs, as well as past president of NIRIA, the Association in the Netherlands for Professional Engineers of all disciplines.

After 36 years with Shell he completed his career in The Hague as head of projects with special responsibilities for standards, maintenance, organisation and testing.

Bart de Steur has had over 45 years world-wide experience in applying instrumentation and control systems, and supervising projects.

His wide-ranging experience gained within Shell International has helped him understand the culture of the different technical staff that he came in contact with. It’s also given him experience of the common training and educational requirements of people trying to keep up to date with continually developing technologies.

Not least, he has supervised myself as a member of his group in the `70s, when technology for Shell was moving from pneumatic straight to distributed control. Shell evaluated the first Honeywell TDC2000 system, and de Steur’s group was responsible for the first implementation of distributed control on three mega projects in New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

De Steur was in London last month to host the Thomson lecture. It was therefore with considerable interest that I had the opportunity to discuss his involvement in the industry and understanding of the profession.

`The ability to speak four languages opened doors to me that helped me develop good working relationships with instrument technicians and engineers. In Japan, I learnt the value of patience and respect; the Australians have a tough but open culture; the Swiss are formal and very honest; the French ingenious; the English informal and flexible; whilst the Germans are organised but inflexible’.

However, throughout this wide range of cultures de Steur preferred to give opportunities to all levels of staff, irrespective of the pieces of paper they held in their early years.

`I like to delegate clear responsibilities, and provide the opportunity for work to be handled with the minimum of interference. However, if they have problems, then I always had an open door to provide help.

`However, the current educational culture throughout the Western World will create some problems for us in the Millennium. Now, the carpenter is a misfit and the technician aims for a degree – often due to social pressures.

`We should not just look at the top level; we should ensure that education with close links to industry is provided for craftsmen and technicians – as well as engineers.

`Capable people between 40 and 50 are being refused career advancements as they did not receive the right bit of paper some 20 years previously. University education is no guarantee of success and many capable people are overlooked.’ He cited engineers who had joined the top Polytechnic of Paris but had been unable to succeed in industry.

`For instrument engineers, the ability to handle a wide range of challenges, and above all to think out solutions in a rapidly changing technology is more valuable than holding a degree that has not been updated. However, industries should not dictate to universities, and a good balance must be struck’.

One of de Steur’s activities is FEANI, where half the members in Europe are British. FEANI has members in 27 countries and, according to de Steur, provides the professional qualification combination of education and experience.

`Harmonisation of education on a European scale is out of the question. Social recognition is at its highest in Mediterranean countries; for example, an engineer is referred to as Dr in Italy. It declines the further North you travel – to the extent that in the UK, understanding of the term engineer ranges from the highly qualified to the repair man’.