In memoriam: Stan Weiner

Our greatest mentor guided us to the best in instrumentation and humor

By Greg McMillan

Greg: John Berra and I went to work in Monsanto’s Instrument & Electrical ( I&E) Design and Construction department in 1969. I spent the first few years in I&E construction at a West Virginia plant. When I came back to the headquarters, I got to know Stan Weiner, who had more than 10 years of I&E experience. John had already been working with Stan and had developed a close relationship with Stan and his family. We both credit Stan as having the most profound influence on our lives and success in our profession. John and I also had fun together sharing our love of basketball by playing pickup games with other engineers after work.

John: Stan’s wife Marilyn was my wife Charlotte’s mentor when Charlotte became pregnant with our first child. Marilyn also guided us through being new parents. Stan was a brilliant and practical engineer with a healthy irreverence for upper management and conventional wisdom. He loved the Moody Blues, and we used to listen to “Days of Future Passed” all the time. I still have the well-worn LP album. I learned so much from him. I left Monsanto in 1972 and moved to Kansas City. My going-away party was at your place, with Stan there as well. Most of the basketball players were there. Memories of that night are a little hazy, but I do recall being given a wonderful gift of a record album full of elevator music. As you know, my cube was right under a speaker, and I hated it when Monsanto piped in a symphonic string version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” or something syrupy like that. Looking back, I guess we were not always model employees, but we did good work. Your book written with Stan, “How to Become an Instrument Engineer,” is a treasure. I like to think that I was one of the first pupils, before the book was written.

Greg: When you left for KC, I took over your project for a new product at the Luling plant. Stan became my mentor. In a way, I was your replacement in his personal life as well. I remember those Moody Blues evenings at his home. The lyrics held such great meaning for me. Stan taught me to appreciate music and humor, changing my life so much for the better. This column with the cartoon and Top 10 list, and the five humorous books we coauthored, would not have happened. Nearly all of my writing is done listening to music on my headphones helping me at times with the flow, besides keeping me entertained.

John: Stan showed me the road to exceptionally practical solutions with a sense of humor that would make you crack up. Stan entered my life at the right time, giving me the best advice. Most of us didn’t realize how much we learned just by watching him. He influenced new generations of engineers who carry with them to this day a little bit of Stan. A lot of plants are running much better due to Stan, directly or indirectly. The world is a better place because of Stan. Hopefully, there is some way or form that we can continue this sharing of practical knowledge.

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I do remember that Stan had a favorite joke chemical called “Yabbatz Chloride.” Whenever he was talking about making a better product, he used to call the product Yabbatz Chloride.

Stan also had little use for the Monsanto performance review system. We were given numerical scores along various parameters. Those scores were then plugged into an equation that literally computed the percent increase in our pay.

For a while, I had a boss who wore orange wing tips, only white shirts, a narrow solid-color tie, a pocket protector, and a crew cut. (Name withheld to protect the guilty—but you know who he was). I’m not sure if Stan ever worked for him, but I know Stan had many things to say about him. Fortunately, our cubes did not have carpeted floors. The orange wing tips made a distinct noise so we all could hear this guy coming from far away. This gave us time to look like we were working.

Greg: I remember the same boss getting on me for not wearing a white shirt or forgetting to put on a suit coat whenever I left my cube. I realized I couldn’t wear my plaid bell bottoms that were the rage. He was very knowledgeable and I have to give him credit for sending me off to Boston to reside at the contractor’s office as the lead I&E engineer on the world’s largest acrylonitrile plant (AN-5). When the design was done, I moved to Galveston to be in construction for the Texas City AN-5 plant. I was then asked to move to England to startup the AN-6 plant. I decided instead to move out of I&E into Engineering Technology, where I could expand my horizons to dynamic modeling and control. Hmm, maybe part of the reason I was sent off was so my boss didn’t have to deal with my clothing or humor.

John: I don’t know if Stan ever had anything to do with the developments at the Page Technical Center. As you know, Monsanto wasn’t happy with the control room stuff from various suppliers, so they had an offsite R&D project to develop their own. This became the analog control system AC2 and digital control system for supervisory control DC2. Once developed, they realized that Monsanto alone did not present enough volume to support a control business. This is when Fisher Controls was bought and those “squared” products were then marketed through Fisher. It was pretty much mandated that we use these controllers on projects and also, of course, use Fisher valves. The controllers were only 1 in. wide instead of the customary 3 in., which made it hard for the operators to sit at a desk and read the scales. In an interesting twist of fate, the Monsanto-developed controllers gave way to PROVOX at Fisher. In 1992, Emerson bought Fisher from Monsanto. I was asked to move to Austin to lead the combined control businesses of Fisher and Rosemount. So, I came full circle, in a way. Of course, this led to the development of DeltaV. So, if you put DeltaV into ancestry.com, Monsanto would be an ancestor.

Greg: Some of the best system specialists in Engineering Technology became part of the development of AC2 and DC2 and ended up in Marshalltown, Iowa. A key guy in advancing process control was Bob Otto, who eventually came back to Monsanto. He proposed a small, model-predictive controller to replace PID, but he didn’t show how to tune it or ensure it was as good as PID for unmeasured load upsets. We now use DeltaV Predict Pro for some difficult applications where PID may not do as well.

John: Achieving the best automation system depends upon people with extensive practical experience.

Greg: Automation is a profession where everything is learned on the job. While mistakes are often the greatest teachers, they are costly in terms of plant performance and the progression of your career. Stan could convey the knowledge needed to avoid the mistakes and help move you on to a successful route. He taught me to seek the best instrumentation even though the benefits are not obvious. He said he could work the project estimates to do what was right in terms of best performance and least maintenance. I learned to avoid, if at all possible, impulse lines. A visit to the second largest producer of chemicals decades later revealed that this is a critical goal for the whole corporation. I learned to spend more to use the best inline flowmeters; RTDs instead of TCs if the temperature was not too high, with smart transmitters instead of direct sensor wiring to I/O cards; three pH electrodes with middle signal selection; and true throttling valves with the best actuators and positioners. I also learned to avoid standalone, special field controllers, and to not spend too much time being lured into new technologies. I quickly realized that the time spent in developing neural networks, fuzzy logic controllers and expert systems could be better used on learning the process through the virtual plant, and then improving advanced PID control and developing small MPC solutions. For more on what technologies are a good investment, particularly with pressure on staffing and budgets, see the ISA Mentor program Q&A post, “What are New Technologies and Approaches for Batch and Continuous Process Control?” For an understanding of how a virtual plant is the key to finding, developing, testing and documenting opportunities, see the Control article, “Virtual plant virtuosity.”

John: Automation is never more than about 7% to 8% of project capital, but people want to cut corners and try to reduce the instrumentation from 7.6% to 7.4%, not realizing the consequences. Getting the best I&E makes the rest of the plant investment work better by more monitoring and better control.

Greg: Measurements are our window into the process, valves are the means of affecting the process, and the control system is the way to put and keep the process at the best operating points. Often not considered is the lifecycle cost including maintenance requirements and especially the implications as to the monetary value of changes in process efficiency or capacity.

Today there is a greater ability than ever for improved process performance from advances in measurements and control system capability and tools that find and implement process knowledge.

My goal is to better define and demonstrate online process metrics that can open people’s minds as to the benefits of better automation. Wireless technology can help with these metrics plus improve production by expanding process knowledge. Wireless transmitters can be used to find the best distillation column tray, detect fouling, give predictions via future values, and provide batch performance monitoring and endpoint detection by simple computation of cooling rate, and demonstrate via online metrics the value of process control improvements. For more on how to develop and use these metrics, see the Control Talk column, “Getting innovation back into process control.”

John: I could never have expected while sitting in my cube in the early days that, through Stan’s help, I had started an incredible journey to an unbelievable career. I found my way into executive leadership while still enjoying the technical side, ending up as president of Emerson Process Automation. I was inducted into the process Automation Hall of Fame and received the Frost & Sullivan Lifetime Achievement Award.

Greg: I feel the same way. I could not have imagined writing over 20 books (counting all the editions), being inducted with Shinskey and Liptak in the founding year of the Process Automation Hall of Fame and receiving the ISA Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have had an unusual career that I fear is not possible today. I used my knowledge gained from Stan and various assignments in I&E design and construction in the first eight years to develop an understanding that the most sophisticated and impressive control strategies will fail miserably if the measurements, valves and tuning are not right. I then used dynamic process simulation to better understand the process relationships and objectives, and develop control improvements that I then deployed in the field. I transferred into Engineering Technology in 1977, where some of the greatest minds in each of their specialties practiced and developed steady-state and dynamic simulation capability. Nearly all were PhDs like most other Monsanto Fellows.

Stan and I were among the few Monsanto Fellows with only a Master’s degree. We jokingly corrected people, when they referred to us as Doctor McMillan and Doctor Weiner, that we were only nurses. Today, we could elevate ourselves to being Nurse Practitioners.

In Engineering Technology, we were encouraged to publish as much as possible, which is quite unusual for a company focused on chemical and biochemical process production. Process manufacturing companies are so concerned about divulging technical advantages and image, getting approval to publish is extremely difficult. Taking time to publish is nearly impossible. Monsanto did not expect that Stan and I would write five humorous books, poking some fun at executives and corporate practices that prevented one from doing what was right.

I heard that, in a meeting with directors and the vice president of engineering, one director held up one of our books, and said, “Are we going to allow Stan and Greg to publish such stuff?” The VP and other directors said, “I guess so.” The five humorous technical books published by the International Society of Automation (ISA) were popular except for Logical Thoughts at 4:00 am, because we wrote it under the pseudonym G.S. McWeiner as a joke. The books and “Control Talk” column are much more humorous because of the cartoons by Ted Williams. There has never been and probably never will be books in engineering like these to open people's minds through humor:

  • How to Become an Instrument Engineer—The Making of a Prima Donna
  • Logical Thoughts at 4:00 am
  • How to Become an Instrument Engineer—Part 1.523
  • Dispersing Heat through Conviction—The Funnier Side of Process Control
  • The Life and Times of an Automation Professional—An Illustrated Guide

Lucinda, a graduate of Monsanto who is now a senior principal automation engineer at a pharmaceutical company, also expressed a heartfelt appreciation of what Stan and I did.

Lucinda: To a young engineer at Monsanto fresh from two years at Fisher and moving to St Louis after marrying someone who was stationed at Scott, you represented instrumentation and automation. You were the senior guys we all wanted to be. In every way, not just technically, but even in your defiance of Monsanto dress code: while the rest of us were in our suits, you were in cord jeans, and your excellence as technical people bought you that right. I wanted to be you. And while I've never become that good, I feel like I've taken a bit of you on my journey. Hopefully, I've passed that on to the young people I've mentored in our internship and co-op programs. They are your grand-mentees and even if they don't know it, they also carry a little bit of Stan and a little bit of Greg in them.

"How to become an Instrument Engineer—The Making of a Prima Donna" was required reading for all my mentees. My copy is thus worn because of it. But when I wrote the article for our company’s Engineering Newsletter announcing the start of my publishing internal training modules for various types of instruments, I referenced the book at the start of the article and included a photo of the original edition that I had. As long as I am in the business, that book will not die.

Greg: When I retired from Solutia, the spinoff of Monsanto, I had the honor of teaching modeling and control in the Chemical Engineering Department of Washington University in Saint Louis (WUSTL). I was asked to also teach a process control lab. I found the existing lab full of handmade circuits and stuff you would never see in a plant. I decided to get smart transmitters, precise control valves and a modern DCS installed. I had trouble getting the donation. I noticed a portrait of John Berra in the WUSTL hallway as a distinguished alumni serving on the National Engineering Council. Right after I mentioned John’s name, the donation progressed rapidly.

John: Hopefully, today, in some way or form, we can continue advancing knowledge in practical application despite resources being stretched to the limit.

Greg: Hunter Vegas and I founded the ISA Mentor program in 2011 to help keep advancing knowledge. Hunter and I have complementary skills, his being more in project execution and mine being more in technology. We are working together on the Process/Industrial Instruments and Control Handbook, Sixth Edition, to be published by McGraw-Hill this year. We have more than 20 contributors in industry helping us. We hope it will be a primary resource of the Mentor Program and some online courses. If you would like to be a resource or protégé of the ISA Mentor program, check out the ISA Interchange post, “Join the ISA Mentor Program.”

John: Stan was a hero. There are countless plants that run better and safer because of him. Also, there are countless engineers who were influenced and mentored by him. Stan touched so many lives with his technical brilliance and wry sense of humor. I’m so glad to participate in this tribute. The automation community lost one of the best.

Greg: I lost my best friend and most valued and uniquely talented colleague. I will carry on with the “Control Talk” column, and continue to use the inspiration and core knowledge from Stan. The first 20 people who email Control’s Lori Goldberg at lgoldberg@putman.net with their email address, mailing address and telephone number (for UPS) will receive a free CD with pdf copies of all seven of my humorous books, with my commentary and Ted’s cartoons. Use the subject line, “Control Talk CD.”