Voices: Boyes

2013 Process Automation Hall of Fame Inductees

The Kings of Control. Four Automation Leaders as Varied as the Suits in a Deck of Cards

By Walt Boyes

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

Dennis BrandlVirtually 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."

John MacGregorDr. 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."

Peter MartinOf his career journey, Dr. Peter Martin of Invensys Operations Management says, "I certainly did not take a direct path into process automation. I earned my BA and MS in mathematics, and in the early 1970s it was difficult to get work as a mathematician, so I took a job as a computer programmer and learned computer science and programming. From there, I took a job as a mathematician at Factory Mutual Engineering Corp., combining the mathematics and computer science skills. I had some difficulty working in an office, so I switched careers for a year and taught in both high school and college. From there, the Foxboro Co. (now Invensys Operations Management) hired me into its Education Services organization. The combination of teaching, computer science and mathematics seemed to be an ideal fit at the time. Working in Educational Services allowed me to learn automation and control from some of the best in the industry, such as Greg Shinskey and Carroll Ryskamp [both Process Automation Hall of Fame Members] and Lew Gordon. I found process automation to be much more interesting and challenging than software development or information technology, and I have spent the rest of my career learning and working in process automation."

Ian VerhappenUnlike Martin, Ian Verhappen was involved in automation from the very beginning of his career. "I started as a chemical engineer working as a field/process/plant engineer in the oil and gas industry, where part of my duties included support for instruments in a gas plant," he says. "In 1987, I applied with Syncrude Canada Ltd., where Pierre Tremblay was looking for a process analyzer engineer, and believed that analyzer systems were like small process plants, and as a result I became a process analyzer engineer. Pierre proved right, and because process analyzer systems required data transfer I quickly learned about loop diagrams and the wide range of field devices needed to support an analyzer system."

Verhappen got involved with ISA, the International Society of Automation, and held various posts in the organization. "So when Syncrude wanted to better understand Foundation Fieldbus (FF) in 1994, I was asked to lead the team that undertook the world's first multi-vendor FF pilot test, which ran through 1997," adds Verhappen.

"In parallel with this, I continued working with ISA in both Standards and Practices and Publications, and when the ISA hosted the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) meeting in 1998, I started my involvement with the Standards Council of Canada and with the IEC. While serving as ISA vice president of Publications, I and Augusto Perreira co-authored the first edition of our Foundation fieldbus book, soon to be in its fourth edition in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

"In 2001," Verhappen continues, "I was asked to lead the Fieldbus Foundation's Global End User Advisory Council, and served in this capacity until 2006, when I joined MTL as director of Industrial Networks. During this time, as a result of my work on the interoperability project, I was invited to participate in an FF speaking tour of Australia, and this became an 'annual pilgrimage.' It was during these trips that I became friends with Steve McKay and, as a result, an instructor for IDC training."

Still involved with ISA, Verhappen is currently ISA Parliamentarian, as well as District 10 vice president elect. He is currently managing director of Industrial Automation Networks Inc., an obvious pun on his first name. "I am now a regular columnist and blogger for Control, Industrial Networking and several other publications in Australia and Canada."

Life, the Universe and Everything

"I am the eldest of five children, and a first-generation Canadian," Verhappen relates. "I remember moving around quite often as I was growing up until we settled down in the Northwest Territories and in particular, Yellowknife.

"Growing up in Yellowknife allowed us to enjoy the outdoors from a cabin 30 minutes from home in the summer, and being encouraged by my father to become a figure skater rather than a hockey player in the winter gave me the chance to participate as an athlete in several Arctic Winter Games as well as one Canada Winter Games.

"I must have had an inkling I would end up in the automation field because in college I took all but one of the chemical engineering program process control courses offered. This was the core of the chemical
process control curriculum after it was announced as a specialization a few years later," he says.

"In the final year of college, I was also the University of Alberta mascot, and in my final term met Michele just as she was finishing her nursing degree at U of A. We were married upon the completion of my first year engineering.

"After graduation, I took a field engineering position in Wainright, Alberta; Michele became a stay-at-home wife; and we had our two daughters, Ashley and Madeleine. By then we'd moved to Syncrude and Fort McMurray.

And here's where hockey comes in. "I started playing recreational hockey in Wainright, and after a number of years I switched over to the other side of the whistle and became a referee, something I continue to enjoy doing today," adds Verhappen.

Peter Martin adds, "I have been married to my wife Liz for over 38 years. We have a son, Derek, and a daughter, Erin, both married. We have two granddaughters.

"Throughout high school and college, I enjoyed sports, playing football, basketball, baseball and hockey. I played hockey through college and was the captain of my college team. I still enjoy all kinds of sports, but lately I spend a bit more time cheering on others than playing—although I still ice skate on occasion."

John MacGregor says, "I have two sons, one a chemical engineer and the other in business. The whole family has always been very active in sports, and we still get together at Christmas to play pond hockey."

There's that hockey thing again.

Dennis Brandl is married to Diane, with four sons who all graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Diane and I had always wanted to live in this area," Brandl says, "because we wanted a place where it did not snow, close to the beach, close to the mountains and with great schools and universities. Our four sons all are working in engineering and software. In fact, I just finished writing a book with my son, Donald, for Momentum Press called Plant IT: Integrating Information Technology into Automated Manufacturing."

Major Contributions to Automation

Each of the inductees has made major contributions to the automation profession, but it is interesting to note how different those contributions have been. Verhappen is a process analyzer guru and an industrial networking and fieldbus expert. Brandl is a manufacturing IT expert. MacGregor is a past master of engineering statistics and the use of advanced mathematics in process control. Martin is recognized for his contributions to controlling processes through real-time business variables and analytics. Between them, they cover the entire field of automation from the plant-floor devices to the boardroom in the enterprise.

"I think my greatest impact has been my work on developing multivariate latent variable methods for the extraction of information from large industrial databases for use in the analysis, monitoring, control and optimization of processes," says MacGregor. "My research on the advanced control of batch processes has also been quite unique in the systems engineering area—both from the use of fundamental models for polymer reactor control, and the use of empirical multivariate latent variable models for the analysis, monitoring and control of batch processes."

Martin believes his contributions "include the invention of dynamic performance measures, real-time, activity-based accounting, enterprise control systems, mathematical models for asset performance measurement and profitable safety. I suppose I would have to say that the invention of dynamic performance measures has realized the greatest contribution to this point."

Verhappen says, "The largest and most rewarding contributions I have made are as a result of sharing. Through ISA and the Fieldbus Foundation, I was able to share both my process analyzer experiences and industrial networking learnings. Being an end user willing to share my experience—another name for mistakes— to help others have a successful project is what provides me the greatest satisfaction. I am now working as a mentor for new engineers here in Alberta through the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). I hope to be able to continue to assist others to understand the importance of the field sensor, final control element and controller communications relationship as the foundation on which all control and automation is based."

Although Dennis Brandl was the chairman of the ISA88 Batch Standard Committee and the co-author of B2MML and BatchML XML schema standards, he says, "I am most proud of the development and market acceptance of the ISA95 standards for Enterprise/Control System Integration and Manufacturing Operations Management. These five standards have made a major impact in improving manufacturing productivity in all industries. The ISA95 standard and the associated MESA B2MML schemas reduced integration project times by over 80%, and helped to revitalize the MES/MOM industry. This has helped companies around the world improve their manufacturing productivity by 3% to 5% per year, resulting in billions of dollars of savings and in substantially improved use of natural resources." 

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