For today’s interview, we have Oscar Hernandez who works as an Independent Advisor at Venenzuela.
With 25 years of experience in Automation & Instrumentation, Hernandez is keen on Field Instruments, Control Valves, Valve Actuators, Electrical AC/DC Motors, Variable Speed drives VSD, Motor Control Centers MCC, Automation Systems PLC/DCS.
In this interview, he discusses his approach towards the changing landscape of the industry. Excerpts from this interview.
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Can you trace your journey in this industry?
I graduated as an Electronic Engineer in 1987 and worked for an IT company for my first three years. It was the era of PC
s based on INTEL 80286 and MS-DOS like the IBM AT.
In 1990, I started with SIDOR at Venezuela, as part of a group of young engineers recruited to improve factory instrumentation and control (I&C) platforms.
I was captivated by the challenge of upgrading a variety of old I&C platforms -relay controls, electropneumatic sensors, servo-mechanic actuators, and lamp/pushbutton operator panels with pen recorders – to the newest architectures based on SIEMENS SIMATIC S5 with analog electronic sensors and transmitters. We also introduced VSD technologies for electric motor control.
Here, I started with stand-alone machines like slab cutters, 300-ton ladle scales, and injection system. Then, I continued to complete processes: 100 MVA EAF furnaces, de-dusting filter systems, and more.
Finally, I had the honor of participating in the upgrade of two direct reduction iron DRI plants. This was using Midrex technology, to PLC/PC architectures based on a Schneider Modicon Quantum/QNX platform.
We used remote I/O panels connected by a Modbus+ network on a redundant fibre-optic ring. The supervisory system connected to the SIDOR intranet by an Ethernet network. Here, I saw the Third Industrial Revolution arrive at SIDOR and knew this was my passion.
So did the evolution of changes drove towards this industry?
In 2000, I felt attracted to the big investments in the Orinoco oil belt of Venezuela. Here, I decided to work in the Cerro Negro oil field, a 120K barrel-per-day (BPD) ExxonMobil project.
It was a great challenge for me, because before I had managed mostly batch processes that handled solids. Now, I had to manage continuous processes mainly handling liquid and gas hydrocarbon products with very strict safety standards.
The central production facility used a Foxboro control system and the well pads Rockwell Allen Bradley controllers. In addition, all field devices were from Emerson Fisher Rosemount.
In 2002, I moved to work in Controval, an I&C engineering company, as a local representative for manufacturers such as Endress+Hauser, Magnetrol, and Yokogawa. Here, I had the opportunity to develop new skills like marketing and sales, business presentations, quote preparations, cost estimates, and more. During my 11 years working for this company, I participated in projects like Yokogawa control system upgrade from µEXCEL to CENTUM CS-3000 and Yokogawa field instrumentation upgrade from analog to Foundation Fieldbus.
What are your roles and responsibilities now? Any milestones or achievements you´d like to share?
Since 2013, I’ve held two positions, one with ITT Bornemann and the other Petromonagas, as an independent advisor. At ITT Bornemann, I supervised the system performance engineering and services team, providing support for the installation, commissioning, and SAT of MP boosting systems.
On the other hand at Petromonagas, I supervised the engineering department and developed conceptual, basic, and detail engineering. As an independent advisor, I’ve provided technical support to projects like electrohydraulic power plants, refineries, and pipelines as well.
You have experience with installing, inspecting and commissioning industrial instruments. Can you share some trends you’ve seen?
The keys to success are good planning and good communication with the customer and the manufacturer. The first step is to get all the related technical documentation, check it, and clarify any doubts.
The second step is to prepare the plan based on these documents and make sure you have all the necessary workforce, materials, and tools.
The third step is to meet with the customer to present the plan and discuss all the details in depth – shutdown date and duration, logistics, preconditions, SAT specifications, and before and after activities – to achieve minimum shutdown time and maximum safety. The best time for training is during commissioning.
What market segments do you cater to, and what challenges do you face now?
I spent my entire professional career in the southern region of Venezuela, where I catered to the oil and gas market because of the Orinoco heavy crude belt; metallurgy and mining because of the iron, bauxite, and gold mines; and hydroelectric power because of the five dams along the Caroni River.
In 2014, Venezuela entered an economic recession, where its GDP accumulated a total decline of -44.1% until 2018. Industries had to cut production or close down, with many abandoning the country.
In this adverse scenario, I took on the challenge of focusing on the maintenance and service segment as an independent advisor, but I always stay prepared for an eventual economic recovery.
How do you help customers choose the right instrument for the right application, and what major queries do you address?
Helping customers choose the right instrument for the right application is the core business of any instrumentation engineer or company. The key is to understand what exactly the customers need and which is the best technology to help them.
We have to check their queries carefully, meet with them to clarify doubts, and visit the facilities for a better understanding of the application. Usually, instrumentation engineers use data sheet templates to collect all the process, electrical, and mechanical data for the application.
After collecting the data, we have to find the right technology. Nowadays, all manufacturers show product selection and sizing information in their web pages. In many cases, they have a selection and sizing software and application simulators to make sure everything is right.
Today, customers pay for solutions as well as devices. Along with the selection tools, getting engineers’ experience is very valuable.
What devices in your portfolio do you sell the most?
In metallurgy and mining, we see demand for ultrasonic level transmitters, storage and transfer systems, position and speed sensors, and static and dynamic scales in crane and conveyor systems.
The hydroelectric power market needs power, voltage, and current meters as well as overload, overcurrent, and phase-unbalance protectors. PLCs, VSDs, and flow transmitters show up here too.
What do you think of digital concepts like Industry 4.0 and IIoT? Do you see clear business models or just buzzwords to sell devices to customers?
This second decade of the 21st century has witnessed the beginning of the 4th Industrial Revolution, called Industry 4.0, the era of digital industry.
In these early times, manufacturers and users are trying to define how to integrate the newest information technologies like IIoT, cloud storage, and big data with operation technologies like control systems and digital devices with artificial intelligence to achieve smart factories. They already know these concepts will radically change their business models.
What do you see in the coming years, and what would you recommend to the next generation of engineers?
I think Industry 4.0 will become a reality in the next two decades. It’s difficult to accurately predict how, but the race has already started and we have to be prepared.
The next generation will have to face the challenge of enlarging their scope of skills. Just knowledge about measuring, controllers, actuators won’t be enough anymore. In the near future, they’ll have to cover a wide range of integrated technologies in smart factories.
This includes Cloud Computing, Big Data platforms, Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, and more. Factory data will have to fit into people’s pockets, so the next generation has to find ways to do that.