2018 Control Process Automation Hall of Fame - Part 2: Herman Storey

Two new inductees join the Hall of Fame

By Paul Studebaker

Our second 2018 inductee invested his entire career in two companies: Shell Oil, and his own Herman Storey Consulting LLC. While he stayed with the same two employers, Storey’s outreach and influence through user groups and standards committees touched many process automation professionals around the world.

But it wasn’t his intention. “My career has been almost a linear path, but not due to planning or design,” Storey says. “I tried many different things in school, but they just weren’t the right fit. I found the right fit at my first job out of school, at Shell.”

Storey always knew he wanted to be an engineer. “My dad was an EE, and from the time I was a little kid, I was building radio kits,” he says. When he was growing up in the 1950s, “Electrical systems were primitive. I was good at math and science, and I dabbled in TV and radio repair, but there no money in it. I learned the money was in design, not repair.

“I tried a summer job in electric power in the oil patch, rewinding motors and so on, but I didn’t like it much. I liked the electronics side, but not pure electronics like they were doing at Texas Instruments, Collins Radio and the computer companies. I liked the oil company. There was more variety, and I could do a lot of things.”

Storey graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BSEE from Louisiana Polytechnic University in Ruston, and was offered a fellowship at LSU to work on solid-state semiconductors. “I decided it was too narrow, and declined it,” he says. “Shell hired me for the automation business, but I didn’t know the automation business when I started.”

Automation had many MEs because the instrumentation was mechanical—pneumatic—but they were starting to use more electrical controls. “I had some control theory courses in college, on servos and stability, but I had to learn control on the job,” Storey says. “Basically, I turned 21, went to work, and started learning things.”

Storey’s first decade at Shell involved a variety of assignments. “I decided I didn’t want to be a manager, which slowed me down some, but it all evened out,” he says. “I moved into project work, which involved standards, and I found I enjoyed writing them. Before that, I did not enjoy writing.”

He then moved into R&D, evaluating new technology, selection and strategy. “I liked this even more than standards, and my interest in strategic direction really kicked me upstairs,” he says. “I got a great deal of satisfaction out of that. I still enjoy it, and I still enjoy writing standards, after 50 years.”

But Storey says his most important contribution is not in standards. “It’s working with the user groups to help them get geared up, organized and facilitated,” he says. “Working with the local ISA section, the Fieldbus Foundation user group—I did a lot of work with the Triconex user group, which contributed to safety. During my time with the Emerson user group, it really took off, and grew by leaps and bounds.”

Storey regrets that the user groups “sucked the life out of the big ISA convention,” he says, “But the user groups are more effective at meeting end user needs, and that’s why they thrive. They have good programs, provide a good user experience and have good cooperation with the vendors.”

At Shell, coordination with vendors solved many problems. “We worked on a lot of issues, and it was very useful and successful,” Storey says.

Professional development

Today, many young people are not going into technology. “They go into medicine or law, not the physical sciences,” Storey says. “I think it’s a matter of interest and attitude, not aptitude. One of my granddaughters is great at math and science, but she’s just not interested. She wants to teach history.”

At Shell, “Early on, I was pushed along by mentors and supervisors. Later, I took charge, figuring out where I fit and could make the best contribution,” Storey says. “These days, my career path—that guidance—doesn’t happen as much. We still had formal training classes; now most of that is gone. Getting training has become an interesting exercise.”

Companies today want people with experience, who can give rapid return. “Companies have a short-term focus,” Storey says “They want to get instant payback when they spend a dollar, with results within the next year. With people, R&D, everything, there’s no long-term view.”

Standards are more of a long-term attempt to solve problems. Storey is working on the ISA 108/IEC 63082 committee, the intelligent device standard, and says, “I hope that will make a difference. I kind of started the committee by getting people involved. We’re trying to finish Part 1—Concepts and Terminology, and we may get to press with the IEC version later this year. Just getting enough common understanding is a challenge.

“There’s a lot of stranded diagnostics out there—a lot of devices saying they need attention, but no one is listening. I’d like to fix that.”

It’s hard to get budget money to have people on standards committees. “People have no travel money, on both the vendor and user sides. A lot have cut way back,” Storey says. "I get more consultants and retired guys, fewer working guys. They’re interested, but it’s hard to get their time.”

Tomorrow’s technologies

Storey says several of the future’s most important features rely on improving the speed of field communications. “Security and data access rely on speed,” he says. “Today, if we secure the field communications, they slow to a crawl.”

User-friendliness also needs speed. “We need to improve the protocols, and the technology is there—the physical layer, IEEE, BACnet—the potential to go from slow, unfriendly and hard-to-manage to something better. The prototypes are done, the demos work, but we’re not wanting to spend the money to get there.”

Security and safety require a fast bus, and so do EDDL and templates. “We need megabauds, not 9,600 baud. Even 32 kB/s fieldbus is too slow. And it needs to be routable over IP. Then we can use decent security chips, boost user-friendliness and do some things,” Storey says. “Slow, insecure and unfriendly—how long do we want to live with that? IEEE is working on it, and sooner or later, it will trickle out. I’ll do my best to push it along.”

The profession needs “more agitators and leaders—people willing to push,” Storey says, “And more people dealing with strategy—the fun stuff. People need to figure out how to rise above their current job, think about the future, and make a contribution.

“Prepare yourself, and rise above your current level. There are opportunities, and it’s the most interesting thing I’ve been able to do in my career, to be part of the user groups, ISA 108 and its IEC follow-on. It can be very rewarding, financially and intellectually—a good place to be.”