Unlike the legendary sword in the stone, which could only be possessed by the rightful King of England, the mantle of a member of the Control Process Automation Hall of Fame is available to anyone who rises high enough in the profession to earn the admiration of his or her peers.
Since its inception in 15 years ago, the Hall of Fame has grown by adding new inductees nominated and selected entirely by existing members—the editors of Control simply facilitate the process, count the votes and write their stories. Together, the Hall of Fame members represent enormous knowledge across the world of process automation. Some are steeped in control theory, others in instrumentation technology, a few in application engineering, software and even marketing.
What they have in common is the willingness and ability to promulgate—to share, promote and disseminate their knowledge and ability to the benefit of others in the profession, the next generation, and to society as a whole. As you’ll see, this year’s new inductees are very different from each other, but each demonstrates unique strengths that add to the stature of the Hall of Fame.
Secures our future
What do you get when you take a small-town Canadian who wants to be an architect, educate him as a chemical engineer, expose him to computers at the dawn of the information age, and drop him into The Dow Chemical Co. for almost 40 years? In the case of Eric Cosman, you get a leader in integrating information technology (IT) in operations, a tireless champion for standardization, and this year’s first inductee to the Control Process Automation Hall of Fame.
As a young man in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Cosman was the first in his family to attend university. His original goal was to become an architect, “But the architecture program in Halifax required two years of engineering, so I enrolled in an engineering school in my home town,” he said. “Even though I only planned to be there two years, they wanted me to select a specialty, so I put down chemical engineering, based on the fact that I enjoyed chemistry in high school, and people telling me that it was the most challenging program.”
Like most universities in the early 1970s, the engineering department at the University of New Brunswick was increasing its involvement with computers, and so did Cosman. “I'd developed an interest in computer science in high school, so I did a lot of that,” he says. This included a summer position working as a research assistant, developing software for the analysis of experimental data.
On graduating with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1976, he joined Dow Chemical Canada as a process engineer. “I thought that the calculations required would be easier using computers, so I tried using it for engineering,” Cosman says. His managers saw his interest and success, and put him on a project to develop a process information management system. “This was before historians were commercially available,” he says. “My focus became supporting and developing software, networking and hardware.”
Cosman’s focus led to greater interest in networking technology, communications and information management, and increasing involvement with architectures and standards. “I did this in Canada for several years, then in 1993, I came to Dow’s facility in Midland, Michigan as a process automation systems architect. This led into process automation software portfolio management, and defining and supporting standards for all the engineering disciplines.”
He became a member of an internal consultants network consisting of senior technical experts in a variety of subjects. “My particular area of expertise is in the application of IT in a manufacturing and engineering context, with a concentration on those aspects that are specific or unique to an operations environment,” Cosman says. “This included developing and managing partnerships with internal and external IT service and solution providers, as well as a full range of technology and expertise centers across the company.” He led a team of experts that shared the overall accountability for the functional and infrastructure architecture that supported IT tools and solutions for all manufacturing and engineering disciplines.
Local to global
Part of the fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack was increased concern about and focus on security. “Cybersecurity got really hot,” Cosman says. “Dow put me with a program to define chemical sector standards for industrial cybersecurity, and I helped to form the ISA99 committee.” Cosman has co-chaired that committee since 2006.
Cosman was ISA vice president, standards and practices, from 2013 through 2014, where he took responsibility for providing volunteer leadership, and worked with the board that oversees and manages ISA’s ANSI-accredited open-standards development process. In 2015, he was named to the ISA Executive Board, where he helps establish the society’s strategic direction and serves as its champion for the cybersecurity strategic goal.
Cosman is also a founding member of the Chemical Sector Cyber Security Program of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and chemical sector representative to the Industrial Control Systems Joint Working Group (ICSJWG) set up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT).
He's written several articles and spoken at conferences on topics ranging from industrial systems cybersecurity to IT lifecycle management and management of industrial IT systems.
Over the years, Cosman’s scope has grown from site to company to industry to national to international, increasingly managing technology at the intersection of IT and process automation. During the past 10-15 of those years, he specialized in industrial automation system security, where he's made a significant difference. “I’ve been fortunate to participate on teams formed to influence policy with senators, congressmen, the executive branch,” he says. “As a team effort, it’s been extremely satisfying.”
Cosman’s second main accomplishment has been promoting automation as a discipline. “It’s still not a specialty at most universities,” he says, and he’s working with the Automation Federation and ISA to raise its stature. In his role on the ISA Executive Board and service on many committees, he works to make ISA more global. “Process automation may not be a discipline, but it’s definitely a profession,” Cosman adds. “I like to think I’ve made a contribution in those two areas.”
In 2014, Cosman retired from his role at Dow as an Operations IT Fellow. “But I wasn’t ready to hang up the spurs,” he says, so he formed a consulting business, OIT Concepts, where he provides consulting and research services on a project basis in the area of operations IT. His clients are end users, emerging suppliers and new startups in IT and cybersecurity. Cosman continues to contribute research and consulting services as part of ARC Advisory Group, and lately, is exploring the application of automation cyber standards to other industries, such as medical devices.
Information and automation technology used to be separate, and still require different skillsets. “Now the environment is so complex and involves so many technologies, that success requires effective partnership. You don’t want automation engineers doing Windows updates.” Similarly, managing their integration takes a combination of leadership and facilitation skills. “I have a foot in each area,” Cosman says. “I’m neither an IT expert nor a detailed design engineer, but I can talk with both.”
On personal growth
In his spare time, Cosman likes to read and learn, “and travel a little more now that I’m retired,” he says. “My wife accompanies me to conferences in other countries, and we take in the local attractions. Last year we were fortunate to spend St. Patrick’s Day in Cork, Ireland.” He and his wife Nancy are now considering where they may wish to retire.
But mostly, he likes to read, and he reads a lot—fiction, non-fiction, biographies, historical fiction and more. “I discovered the library at nine years old,” he says. “I like to read company stories, how they developed and grew, like Good to Great. As I made the transition from single contributor to leadership, I was inspired by the things I read—biographies, psychology. I particularly enjoyed a book called Influence Without Authority—how to make a difference without having to climb the management ladder. How to succeed through team leadership vs. organizational management, not budgets and 'administrivia.' ”
Cosman advises the next generation to, “Find out what you’re good at, where your interests and aptitudes lead you. If you have STEM inclinations, you don’t have to be a geek. Be an engineer with heart, in medical sciences, industrial, whatever you choose. It may change in 15 years.”
His own heart may have grown because he was involved with Big Brothers of Sarnia-Lambton during the early part of his career at Dow. He volunteered for eight years, and became president of the agency. “Mentoring was foreign to me when I was younger,” Cosman says. “I was heavily involved in developing technology and was very focused on that. Now I’m much more people-focused—more involved in systems and their adoption.”
Cosman credits his success to “outstanding mentors,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. I had the privilege of working with Maggi Walker, then vice president of engineering at Dow. “She’s the one who taught me the necessity of balancing the hard side and the soft side of your skills.”