As John Berra retired from Emerson Process Management at the end of September, after 41 years in the process automation industry, it must be amazing for engineers today to consider that his career has spanned all the major technology developments that have happened in the electronic era in the industry. But far more important is that he has been the major driving force at the center of many of these developments for over 25 years, as a forward-thinking engineer, business manager and motivator.
His last appearance as a full-time employee of Emerson Process Management was at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in San Antonio, Texas, where the 2200 delegates listened to him recount some of the highlights of this career, and in farewell gave him a standing ovation.
Marketing for the 1151
Berra joined Emerson as a marketing manager for the Rosemount business in 1976, and so began a long association with the Rosemount 1151 pressure transmitter. Dr James Truchard, president, CEO, and co-founder of National Instruments commented: "Throughout his career, Berra has demonstrated strong business, product and technology leadership. Berra [has] extensive experience growing large accounts, working with broad-based sales and marketing organizations and managing product development on both hardware and software applications..." This is why National Instruments snapped John Berra up earlier this year and appointed him to its board of directors.
It was his willingness to embrace and develop new technologies, revolutionary to the industry, but built upon strong business cases, that has been one of the major factors contributing to the business success of not only Emerson, but of other producers and manufacturers using their products. "In the early 1980s, before the era of ubiquitous microprocessors, John Berra helped revolutionize the process control industry and set new standards by advocating a vision of technology both within Emerson and with various industry groups and standards bodies," said John Ruggles, vice president of Frost and Sullivan (F&S), the business research consultancy: "Mr Berra has helped the establishment of various non-profit organizations that set industry-wide process communication standards."
How to Eliminate Wires
Berra's career spans the movement from pneumatic instrumentation to wired analog, to digital control, to fieldbus and now to wireless monitoring and control. "Most of my career," Berra says, "has been about getting rid of wires. We tried reducing some of the wiring with fieldbus, and now, of course, wireless is fieldbus without wires. Anything we can do to reduce the complexity of wiring is added value to our customers."
The current major technology trend is toward wireless, Berra notes, and the early benefit is the same as it was for fieldbus: the reduction of installation cost by reducing or eliminating wiring. "But what really happened is that the technology opened the doors to making better devices, more intelligent devices, and more clever and creative ways to accomplish process control," he says. "More importantly, it opens up whole new ways to visualize process control." Even in leaving, he is still able to make us think ahead to the future. But as he leaves, so Emerson also drew the line at the end of the production life of his constant companion over 35 years, the Rosemount 1151.