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People come to the discipline and practice of process automation in many different ways and come down some pretty twisty paths. How did growing up on a potato farm outside Waupaca, Wis., prepare Jim Christensen for becoming one of Allen-Bradley’s and then Rockwell Automation’s senior engineering theorists, for example? These are truly fascinating people for what they have already achieved, as well as what they still will in their ongoing careers.
Getting Elected to the Process Automation Hall of Fame
You cannot apply to the Hall. Each year, the editors of Control and the previous inductees to the Hall of Fame produce a nomination slate listing as many as ten highly respected engineers or process automation professionals. Then the previously inducted members of the Hall of Fame are asked to vote for three from that list. The top three vote getters are inducted by their peers into the Process Automation Hall of Fame.
Potatoes to PLCs, and only semi-retired.
From that potato farm in Wisconsin, Jim Christensen went on to the University of Wisconsin, earning a doctorate in Chemical Engineering/Computer Science in 1967, during which time he participated in a foreign exchange program with the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores in Monterrey, Mexico. He went on to postgraduate work at Dartmouth College, where he showed early promise by becoming a Ford Foundation Fellow in Engineering Design.
His early career alternated between academia and practical work. After leaving Dartmouth, he joined Chemshare Corp., where he developed automated calculation-sequencing and convergence-forcing modules for large chemical plant design and simulation programs. Later, for what was then the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission, in a two month period he designed, debugged and documented data acquisition hardware and software interface between a PDP-8L minicomputer and a large EAI hybrid computer.
Throughout the 1970s, Christensen alternated between operating as a real-world consultant and an academician, except for a sojurn in the late 1970s into running a company that made and marketed electronic musical instruments. Following that, he became senior systems engineer for TI’s PM550 and 510 programmable controllers.
In 1982, he was hired as manager of advanced research and development for Allen-Bradley, later Rockwell Automation. During his 23-year career there, he led the development of the IEC 61131-3 Standard for Programming Languages for Programmable Controllers, the global standard for this segment of the automation and control market. He has also led the development of the IEC 61499 standard, the successor to IEC 61131-3, for the next generation of industrial automation and control. His Function Block Development Kit software is the first internationally used IEC 61499-compliant software tool kit.
In addition to his work with the IEC, he has been in leading positions in the international Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) Program since its inception in 1990. He has served in both technical and management positions in the Holonic Manufacturing Systems (HMS) consortium, comprising major industrial and academic partners from Japan, Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States. He is a founding Member of the Board of Directors of the new IMS OOONEIDA Community of Common Interest for Intelligent Distributed Automation.
Jim retired from Rockwell in 2005, mostly so he could devote his entire attention to evangelizing for IEC 61499, which he does from his post as president of Holobloc, Inc.. Christensen says, “The 61499 standard has so far inspired a lot more academic research than industrial adoption—an indication that it is still quite far advanced from the state of the art in industrial practice.”
About those twisty paths, Christensen says, “the last good book I’ve read is The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book by Julie Galambush,” he says. Christensen goes on, “Probably my most interesting project is trying to adapt the Tibetan Buddhist path of spiritual development called the “lam rim” (“steps on the path”) to Christianity.” He concludes, “There is a long spiritual odyssey behind that, but that is another story.”
Along the way, Christensen married. “As of January 27, I’ll have been married to the same fine woman for 44 years. We’re the proud parents of two very accomplished sons and four lovely grandchildren,” Christensen boasts that, “One of the great pleasures of semi-retirement is being able to hop in the car and drive over to see them.”
Tom Edgar is grandmaster of control theory.
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