Every year, the previous inductees of the Process Automation Hall of Fame nominate and elect the next year's class of inductees. This fall, an excellent slate of candidates was nominated, and as sometimes happens, we had a tie for third place. So we'll be inducting four new automation heroes instead of three.
Something usually ties these disparate automation leaders together. In the case of three of them, Peter Martin, Ian Verhappen and John MacGregor, they all played hockey as young men and in later life. But the fourth member of the class of 2013, Dennis Brandl, said, "I played hooky in high school and college, not hockey." He went on to admit being a strong fan of the NHL franchise, the Carolina Hurricanes, however.
So maybe the intensity, discipline and teamwork required from hockey (and perhaps hooky) are among the threads that intertwine these four giants of automation.
Every February, we profile the new inductees in Control magazine and on ControlGlobal.com. This year, the inductees are
- Dr. Peter G. Martin of Invensys Operations Management;
- Mr. Dennis Brandl of BRandL Consulting;
- Mr. Ian Verhappen of Industrial Automation Networks;
- Dr. John MacGregor of ProSensus Inc.
Anyone can nominate a candidate for the Process Automation Hall of Fame. Just send to Editor-in-Chief Walt Boyes the name and a short CV of the person you believe ought to be in the Hall of Fame. Each nomination is put before the previous inductees, and a short list is derived from which the inductees themselves choose the new class of inductees. This is truly a high honor, because these individuals are all chosen by their peers.
The Road to the Hall
Virtually no one starts out knowing they are going to be an automation engineer. Dennis Brandl is an exception. "I think I was always destined," he says, "to become an engineer. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together in grade school and high school, usually with only a few extra parts left over."
Brandl points out that the use of computers, although it is ubiquitous in our society, isn't very old at all. "It wasn't until my final year of high school (1969) that I first had access to a computer, and it was a wonderful thing. I could design and build systems entirely out of ideas, and then have the computer interface to real devices to do things that were nearly impossible with gears, lights and switches."
Brandl continues, "In college at Carnegie-Mellon University, I was even more immersed in using computers for real-time control, including projects for landing rockets, controlling trains and controlling lab instruments. There were enough of us interested in this at CMU that the university started a master's degree program in measurement and control in 1973, and I was a member of the first class."
This evolved into CMU's Robotics Institute in 1979. Brandl, however, had taken his "master's in measurement and control in hand," and went to work in the space program. His experience in real-time computing led to a job at Modcomp Computers working on steel mills, nuclear reactors, petrochemical plants and other manufacturing systems. Then he worked for Shell Oil, designing control systems and control products for manufacturing at several other end-user and vendor companies.
"I believe that my lifelong interest in building things and making things work better was what led me to process automation," Brandl says. "Designing and building control systems is an intellectual challenge that can also provide major benefits and value to companies, communities and the world."
Dr. John MacGregor, now CEO of ProSensus, says, "I graduated in chemical engineering from McMaster University in 1965, and went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin—with an interest in modeling, simulation and control. While I was there, I got very interested in the work that George Box and Bill Hunter were doing in engineering statistics—nonlinear modeling and estimation, time series analysis and so forth. Therefore, I switched out of ChE and into statistics, and completed my MASc in chemical engineering and statistics and a PhD in statistics."
Like a large number of the inductees in the Hall of Fame, MacGregor's career path led through Monsanto. "My years at Monsanto in the late 60s were also influential in focusing my interest on real, practical problems. It was there that I also started to look at multivariate statistical methods for extracting information from the control and lab databases. This later became my major focus of research from the late 1980s onward. It was also through my work at Monsanto that I became interested in polymer reactor control, and as a result, I spent many years at McMaster in the 70s and 80s publishing in the area of polymer reaction engineering."