Process Automation Hall of Fame

A Walk in the Hall. Manager/System Architect/Teacher: This Year’s Crop of Everyday Process Automation Heroes

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Read the additional material we coudn't fit in our print edition of this article. Check ControlGlobal.com/halloffameextras.html

Also, listen to Walt Boyes talking to the 2008 inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame.

By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

Every year, in the February issue, we announce the new class of inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame. This year’s class joins a group of luminaries in the art and practice of automation in the process industries (see The Process Automation Hall of Fame at the end of this article). We are proud to introduce you to three men who have had a significant impact on what we all do every day.

The Project Manager

Vern Trevathan, profiled in the ControlTalk column in March 2007 (Best of the best, Part 3), has been involved in the process industries for over 43 years, starting at Monsanto, where he became superintendent of process control technology, then manager of process control engineering and, finally, manager of project managers and manager of manufacturing control. When Solutia was spun off, Trevathan became manager of engineering for all design disciplines, both corporate and plant level. After retiring from Solutia, he became vice-president of Benham Company’s system integration group.

“I had great summer jobs,” Trevathan said, talking of his early years. He became convinced he wanted to work in the process industry. “Monsanto was the most convincing,” Trevathan went on, “Due to the efforts of Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams and other control giants of that period, Monsanto was further along in the use of computers for control than just about anybody in the process industry.”

“After I got to Monsanto,” Trevathan admitted, “I realized just how inadequate my engineering education had been.” Monsanto’s mentoring and internal education programs were outstanding, Trevathan says. “Without those programs, I’m not sure I would ever have been converted from an electrical engineer that knew almost nothing about industrial automation to having a pretty good grasp.”

In 1992, Trevathan got himself appointed to coordinate all process control projects in the company. Aided by a large benchmarking project, he showed Monsanto’s corporate management that he could get more value from the existing digital control systems—documenting new ongoing control benefits of $60 million per year, with almost no capital expenditure. “Key to this was a new methodology of looking at the process for financial benefit opportunities, without regard to how well it was running or how well it was maintained,” Trevathan revealed, “and then focusing specifically on realizing the larger of those specific benefit opportunities. This was a very disruptive type program.”

When he retired, he says, his wife told him to get a job.

He went to work for a system integrator. “That was a very different experience, working with young engineers who did not have the training or background of the Monsanto engineers.”

So when he retired from his retirement job, he decided to devote his time to improving education for young automation professionals. He became the principal editor and author of A Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge for ISA and one of the guiding lights behind the Certified Automation Professional (CAP) program.

Trevathan sees six primary trends for the future of automation—some of them not all good. The rate of advancement of technology is getting faster. There’s a real focus on project benefits. There is an improved emphasis on project management tools and training. There’s a convergence of IT and automation. There are increasing shortages of well-trained people entering the field, and there is an increasing gap between the knowledge level of automation professionals and the technology.

“We need to be doing much more to show students in high school and even earlier that engineering is a good career,” Trevathan says. “Of course, manufacturing in general needs a big boost as a career choice.”

The End User Turned System Architect

“I was born with ‘The Knack,’” says William M. Hawkins, “and I developed electrical and mechanical skills. Father worked for Foxboro from 1950 to 1977. He asked me to help him with the HVAC drawings for a quote on a SAGE center. I thought that was interesting, but space ships were more interesting. Fortunately, I did not have the grades from MIT to be accepted by NASA in 1960, so my father asked the chief instrument engineer at Hercules if there were any openings. I started at a Hercules blasting cap plant in upstate New York designing test instrumentation for commercial and small military explosive devices. I loved being able to design equipment to requirements and see the process through to use of the design.”

“My first field trip was to a plant that had a 60,000 SCFM compressor for a nitric acid process that was surging on a process trip. First we found an expansion sleeve plugging the vent silencer, using a big crane to get it down. Then we found the cause of the trips in a junction box under the stairs. It had no cover, so nitric acid that formed in moisture rotted the connector. I was hooked and loved the work.”

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