2015 Process Automation Hall of Fame

Our three honorees found chemical engineering their gateway drug into process automation and a source of basic process knowledge

By Paul Studebaker

This year's inductees into the Control Process Automation Hall of Fame all hold doctorates in chemical engineering, have made significant contributions to the art and science of advanced control, and have exerted outsized influence on the profession through research and publication, by participating in groups and committees, and by educating, mentoring and managing the next several generations of process and control experts.

All three were also nominated and selected by the existing Hall of Fame members, but each has his own story about how a solid education in chemical engineering led to an award-winning career in process control.

Driven to Find a Better Way

Our first inductee is a chemical engineer with a knack for mathematics, who was drawn into the process automation profession by the intricacies of advanced control, a funded Ph.D. program, and the culture and opportunities he found at a world-class chemical company. We welcome Don Bartusiak, chief engineer, process control, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Baytown, Texas.

Bartusiak has made significant contributions to the theory and practical applications of advanced control, evidenced by numerous technical papers and by three of his four patents (See sidebar, "Evidence of Innovation"). In 2011, he won an AIChE Computing and Systems Technology (CAST) Division Computing Practice Award for innovative industrial application of nonlinear model-predictive control to polymerization and petrochemical processes and for multi-faceted interactions with academic researchers.

See Also: 2014 Process Automation Hall of Fame—Certifiably Famous

His drive for interaction extends beyond academics to participation in professional groups, where he serves or has served as:

  • International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) Technical Committee 6.1 Co-chair, 2012 – present.
  • International Society for Automation (ISA) Standards Committee Managing Director, 2011 – present.
  • Conference for Process Control (CPC VIII) Co-chair, 2011–2012.
  • AIChE Computing and Systems Technology Division Director, 2007–2010.
  • Ethylene Producers Committee, Process Control Programming Chair, 2003-2007.
  • AIChE Lehigh Valley Section, multiple offices including Section Chair, 1979–1983.

"I have had the opportunity to work with Don Bartusiak over the past two years," says Dennis Brandl, Hall of Fame member (2013) and chief consultant, BR&L Consulting. "He is someone who is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom and look for new ideas and opportunities."

On graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1977, Bartusiak took his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering to Bethlehem Steel's Research Department as a process development engineer, working on technology for reduction or treatment of steel plant solid wastes.

"Coming out of University of Pennsylvania, I was torn about going into grad school," Bartusiak says. "Dr. Norman Hixson got me a job in research at Bethlehem Steel, in environmental process development. I was an idealistic young person trying to do some good, but the company was not really invested in the environment. So I pursued an master of science degree at LeHigh University on a part-time basis, still in chemical engineering. Around 1984, with steel going from bad to worse, I went back to grad school full-time to get my Ph.D."

That's where Bartusiak made his connection with automation and control. "It was a hot topic at the time, with National Science Foundation (NSF) funding," he says. "I was there at the beginning of the Chemical Process Modeling and Control Research Center (PMC), founded by the NSF in 1985. That's when I became a process control guy."


Along with applied mathematics, Bartusiak loves the performing arts. His core competence is scenic design. He's also directed, and ran a theater in the 1980s. "I'm fascinated with the gift God gives to performers—actors, dancers, singers—-to give to the audience and public," he says. ""I met my wife in community theater."

Bartusiak says his wife "likes to tell the story of how I proposed to her in 1984. Then when she said yes, I quit my job and went to school." While he was at Lehigh, "My wife got pregnant and we needed money, so I got a summer job with Exxon Chemical."

Bartusiak completed his Ph.D. dissertation in 1988 and joined Exxon Chemical full-time, "which has been very rewarding career-wise," he says. After rising through the process control R&D ranks at Exxon Chemical and now ExxonMobil, Bartusiak says, "My current position has two main components: to set a very forward-looking technical strategy that will make ours the best company in the world and to foster the next generation of technologists."

Throughout his career, mentoring has been very important. "The way Exxon Chemical's engineering group was set up, people on the technical ladder had to also train and mentor the less-experienced," Bartusiak says. "It's the way we learned to work… We're expected to impart our knowledge, to train and develop."

A critical skill is making the case for value and explaining it to management. Chemical engineers are strong on process technology, and those of us in functional groups must explain and demonstrate value "without being pedantic," Bartusiak says. "That's how we get the resources we need to do what we do."

The aforementioned AIChE award was won in collaboration with Dr. Bob Fontaine. "We reduced nonlinear model-predictive control to practice," Bartusiak says. "We did all the software development in the early 1990s and had the first working application in a polyethylene plant in the spring of 1994."

He is also proud of his work "at the interface between applications and software, to support new computer controls of the late 1980s, such as dynamic matrix control (DMC) and real-time optimization," Bartusiak says. "We were awarded a patent in 1997 for dynamic optimization technology with Dot Products, which merged with PAS, which sold or licensed it to Honeywell where it became Profit NLC."

Bartusiak has a long history of participation in groups and committees in AIChE, ISA and IFAC. "It's important to me personally, and to my bosses, to have a good relationship with universities, so I've been involved in research consortia and in the professional community," he says. "It takes a lot of nights and weekends, but it's important to give back to the profession."

Participation has two main benefits: First, it's a way to influence the direction of technology. "It's a direct lever in industry, and an indirect one in committees," Bartusiak says. "Second, you gain knowledge of the state of the art and opportunities you wouldn't get otherwise."

Bartusiak misses the large un-branded conferences of the past millennium. "It used to be that people could go to open conferences—ISA, AIChE—and have dialogs with professors, students, operating companies and vendors of all kinds," he says. "Now they primarily go to user groups. That's OK, but if it's done to excess, it's a bad thing. They get the blinders on."

Blinders are a bad thing, Bartusiak says. "Fear of complacency has been a driving force in my life. There's a book by Andy Grove, ‘Only the Paranoid Survive.' We can't just roll merrily along. That's anathema to me, a way that's doomed to no viability.

"Bethlehem Steel was a Fortune 25 company when I started, and it went bankrupt in 20 years. That affected me. It still drives me every day. I'm not a caretaker—it's about always getting better. Not change just for change's sake, there has to be a business case. Never stop looking for a better way to serve customers, a better way to do things."

Prepares the World's Best Process Control Engineers

Our second 2015 inductee is Armando Corripio, semi-retired professor, Louisiana State University (LSU), whose quiet research, publications and work as an educator have contributed enormously to the profession and our understanding of advanced control. We can't even list all of his awards (See sidebar, "Honors and Awards Abound").

Corripio credits his involvement in process control to Paul Murrill (HOF 2014) and Cecil Smith (HOF 2009), with a nod to Fidel Castro. "I was near the end of my junior year in chemical engineering at the University of Villanueva in Cuba when Castro decided to intervene [temporarily close] the university at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion, in April 1961," Corropio says. "One year later I was able to continue my education at LSU and got my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1963."

On graduation, Corripio joined Dow Chemical Company's Plaquemine, Louisiana, facility. "They put me to work in automation and computer process simulation," he says. "I was the first chemical engineer to work in automation at Dow, at least at the Louisiana Division.

"I always liked mathematics and chemical engineering, and the job at Dow involved both, as well as computers," Corripio says. "We did the simulations in a Dow facility in Texas, on a home-made analog computer that took up a whole room. We would travel there and stay for days, working day and night in stints."

Thefirst project he worked on was to boost production rates on a pipeline. "We modeled the pipeline and pumps, and used the computer to model the inertia and calculate the math for the algorithms we put in the controllers," Corripio says. "When the plant people saw the algorithms, they said it wouldn't work, that the pipe would burst. The concern was that if a pump tripped, it would generate a wave that would overpressure the pipe. We calculated that the friction would be enough to prevent the pressure rise from being high enough to burst the pipe."

The model also predicted that if the first pump tripped, the wave would cause a vacuum in the pipe, which the plant personnel also did not believe. "So we set up a demonstration, tripped the pump and measured the pressure, which went to vacuum just as we had predicted," Corropio says. "That gave them confidence in the models, and we were successful at increasing production."

During this time, Corripio took night courses at LSU in Baton Rouge with Murrill. "Paul also taught courses at Dow, where I was doing the simulations, and he kept asking me to come and get a Ph.D.," Corripio says. "So I did."

As Corripio was finishing his studies, Murrill was promoted to provost. "He offered me his position in the faculty, which I accepted."

At the time, LSU taught computer control in the mechanical engineering department. "Then we instituted it in the chemical engineering department," Corripio says. "In the 1980s, IBM was promoting computer controls and donated a mainframe for us to use. I was in charge of that and used it for simulation."

Corripio taught full-time at LSU for 37 years until retirement in 2005, and has continued teach part of a course a semester.

"Today, many chemical engineers are hired to work on controls, so we see that they have the knowledge to do that," Corripio says. "The university has systems that incorporate simulations, live demos and remote control based on real systems. The students are better prepared."

In the area of research and discovery, Corripio says "I've accomplished some things in controller tuning, but it's a dog-eat-dog world, and I've never been good at publicizing. Some people are better at that—they do it after you, but publicize it better."

One of his doctoral students developed a novel controller tuning method they called "controller synthesis," Corripio says, "But years later others came up with a method they called IMC, which gives essentially the same results. They didn't give us any credit, and the method is now known universally as IMC."

A master's degree student applied one of the first self-tuning controllers at Dow, "but again, others later developed similar techniques and did not give us credit," Corripio says.

His most important accomplishment is preparing some of the best process control professionals in the world. "My greatest reward comes when students thank me for their education," Corripio says. "Just recently one of my PhD students thanked me for the education he received at LSU and told me that when he graduated, he went to work for one of the top control engineering teams in the United States, at a major oil company. He told me that he worked with Ph.D.s from some of the top chemical engineering departments in the country, and he never felt less prepared than they were for doing the job."

Corripio remains excited by today's advances in wireless technology. "An entire control system can be configured over the network… you can hook anything up to anything," he says. The equipment is also much more sophisticated. "When I started, the refinery had oil brought in by trucks. We could improve tuning easily and simply. Now it's about online optimization and dynamic matrix control (DMC) tuning."

That kind of advanced control "takes a team of people, and most process facilities don't have the whole team," Corripio says. "They'll pay a company to put it in, but there's no one there to keep it operating. To do real-time simulation and optimization takes a team of real-time engineers.

"Don't ask me how to improve the situation, I don't know. You're asking a fellow who thought distributed control wouldn't work."

We asked Corripio what he would change if he were starting over. "I got into process control by accident, because of Castro," he says. "I was very lucky. I loved it. Chemical engineering and control is a great career. I wouldn't do anything else."

Puts Hands on Problem Processes

This year's third inductee was attracted to the profession as the way to get his hands on chemical processes. "As juniors in chemical engineering at the University of Alabama, we were put on teams for the unit operations labs," says James Downs, PE, Engineering Fellow and Manager of the Advanced Controls Technology group at Eastman Chemical Company. "Our group had to operate and demonstrate steady state of a distillation column. I found I liked to operate equipment."

Downs has 33 years of experience in the design, start-up and support of industrial processes. His work has included the design of advanced control systems for reaction systems, distillation processes, polymer processes, extraction and other separations processes, gas handling systems and compressors, and other unit operations. He developed regulatory and overall plant-wide operation strategies for numerous capital expansion projects combining plant design and control system design techniques. He has implemented and applied to chemical process operations infinite horizon model-predictive control, on-line Kalman filters and on-line process optimization technology. His current research interests include plant-wide control strategy design, plant-wide process optimization and the process design/process control interface.

After earning a masters degree in chemical engineering at the University of Florida, Downs joined the process systems engineering group at Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, Tennessee. "One of the people in the group, Jim Doss, had a Ph.D. in process control, and he got to go into the control room, to do step tests and run the equipment," Downs says. "He became a mentor for me, and after six months or so, I decided to go back to school for a Ph.D."

He joined Charlie Moore at the University of Tennessee, working on azeotropic distillation. "Jim had told me to take every course in the electrical engineering department on process control, which I did. I was very much into process simulation."

On returning to Eastman, he "learned how real processes worked. My life became implementing theory on process lines with gooey, sticky stuff and valves that don't work.

"Jim Doss was my major influence, and Charlie Moore was my major support. They are probably the reason I am where I am today."

Over the years at Eastman, Downs worked with other engineers and academics to develop a theory of "singular value decomposition that let us see where in the temperature profile to control the temperature." Along with steady-state gains, this led them to develop a modular simulator that they could apply to various configurations of process equipment. "It wasn't super, but it was plenty rigorous."

They then set their sights on plant-wide control strategies. "Using a VAX computer talking to a DCS and Fortran, Ernie Vogel set up an interface so we could use simulations to run a dynamic model, then apply it to the DCS using supervisory control. We used the same supervisory control on the simulator and on the DCS." By 1992, they developed the ability to test control schemes in simulation, then apply them in a plant. Attempts to implement dynamic matrix control (DMC) led to "infinite horizon model-predictive control," he said. "In 1995, we started to apply it in operations, and it has been a workhorse for us for 20 years."

The past 10 to 15 years have focused on data collection and analytics, "tools to bring clarity and science into the equation." During this time, Downs has written many papers, taught several courses and participated in numerous professional activities (see sidebar, "Professional Activities Take Control"). He has won recognition both inside and outside Eastman Chemical, including AIChE's CAST Computing Practice Award (1996) and Eastman's Perley S. Wilcox Award (2011) recognizing long-term innovation that has resulted in business success.

"Jim has impacted Eastman's earnings and competitiveness by personally contributing to capacity gains, lower costs and higher reliability across all of Eastman's manufacturing streams and many of its sites," said Ronald Lindsay, Eastman executive vice president, in 2011. "Jim's knowledge remains at the cutting edge of advanced controls technology, and he has extended his impact by mentoring and training our next generation of controls experts. His technical expertise and his engaging approach to working with manufacturing, engineering and technology organizations have multiplied his effectiveness. Jim's integrity, professionalism and spirit of teamwork serve as a role model for all of Eastman's engineers and scientists."

Downs considers his major accomplishment to be the quality of the advanced control group and its members. "We have a chart of 60 people, and 17 are still in the group, so 43 have gone on to be company presidents, production managers, engineers and more," he says. "Wherever they have gone, they still attribute a lot of who they are to the control group."

He credits part of their success to how he has managed—or not managed—the group. "When I had been group leader for five years, I wanted to get out, to just go and be an engineer," he says. "So I arranged to go on rotation between that and being group leader. Three others did my job while I was gone, and it was a big success. They got the keys to the car, and I got to play for awhile. My love and passion is doing process control stuff.

"I'm 61 now, and it's been a great area to work in, just as exciting today as when I was 31."