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Defining Sustainability in Instrumentation and Process Control

Posted on January 13th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

Sustainability seems to be the buzzword of the day.  When asked to share my perspective through this blog, I had to ask myself, “What is sustainability?” 

A quick Google of “sustainability” provided a number of results including the following Wikipedia definition that appears useful to start a discussion about sustainability as it relates to instrumentation and process control.

In ecology, sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.[1]

At the risk of sounding pedantic… the definition addresses sustainability as related to ecology with an example in the second sentence.  The third sentence provides what could be considered a broad definition of sustainability — endurance of systems and processes.  The last sentence provides components of sustainability.

When confronted with an operational situation, engineers and technicians typically analyze the symptoms, locate the problem, and provide a solution to the problem — preferably focused at the problem source.  This makes a lot of sense when the problem is one-dimensional.  However many problems are multi-dimensional in the sense that fixing one problem well may compromise other aspects of the operation.

For example, installing a sophisticated instrument that plant technicians cannot maintain could lower overall plant performance as compared to using a less sophisticated instrument that performs nearly as well but can be maintained by plant personnel.  In this example, the more sophisticated instrument may be superior but the less sophisticated instrument is more sustainable because it addresses the, “endurance of systems and processes.”

Let’s plan to develop a working definition of sustainability in the next post.

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