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2021 Control Process Automation Hall of Fame: Tom Burke

April 12, 2021
Tom Burke is among four inductees to the Control Process Automation Hall of Fame this year
2021 Control Process Automation Hall of Fame Inductees
  • Bridget Fitzpatrick
  • Dr. Babatunde Ogunnaike
  • Tom Burke
  • John Rezabek

For Tom Burke, most recognizable as the longtime president and executive director of the OPC Foundation, open standards and personal relationships are what make the world go round.

Today, he serves as global director of industry standards for Mitsubishi Electric as well as director of strategic marketing for Mitsubishi’s Iconics software brand and global strategic advisor for the closely allied CC-Link Partner Association. This follows nearly two decades as the public face of the OPC standards and the organization that supported them since the original specification was first conceived in the mid-1990s until he stepped away in 2018.

Released in 1996, the original OPC specification was first conceived by a group of four competitors in the human-machine interface (HMI) software space as a means to take on Wonderware’s relative dominance in the arena of software connectivity with third-party devices. Then a developer at Rockwell Automation, Burke was among the specification’s chief authors, then taking the helm full-time to evolve the standards and keep them relevant despite the onrush of alternative technologies. Burke, who measures a standard’s success by the unflinching benchmark of marketplace adoption, also drove the open-source release of the OPC UA specification—which paradoxically saw paying company memberships more than double over the past five years to now include 1,000+ organizations.

Looking back over the past two decades, Burke is most proud of the organization’s ability to recognize and address a fundamental industry need, then bring together a range of competitive interests to develop specifications and technology to help solve real-world problems. “It was all about people, and how we assembled a cohesive team of individuals across competitive companies—all of us with the same vision of working together to develop the best specifications, technology, certification and process,” Burke says. “It’s about competitors collaborating to deliver value on behalf of end users."

Burke says that as the years passed, collaboration became his favorite word. He began to realize the value of working cooperatively with the other industrial communication organizations, and especially other standards organizations worldwide. “OPC UA was focused on interoperability and providing data and useful information between IT and OT before we could even spell IT and OT,” he says. “I wanted the MES players and the enterprise players to be able to connect up to our control systems and get useful data and information from all of the devices and applications.”

“More fundamentally, what I've learned over the course of my career is the value of and the importance of relationships,” Burke says. “It's not the technology that matters, it's the people. It's so important that you form the right partnerships and alliances.

“One of my greatest accomplishments was recruiting volunteers from all of the automation players in our industry,” Burke adds. “They devoted 100% of their time to a shared goal and vision of interoperability. We constantly had to look at all the technology and stay ahead of it.”

Most recently, he championed formation of the organization’s Field Level Communications (FLC) initiative, which is now working to implement OPC UA at the lowest levels of device networks over standard Ethernet made deterministic through the use of Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) extensions. “I knew that we needed to leverage TSN technology; getting a critical mass number of suppliers behind me to support OPC UA over TSN was key.”

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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