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2021 Control Process Automation Hall of Fame: Bridget Fitzpatrick

April 8, 2021
Bridget Fitzpatrick 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

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at MIT, Bridget Fitzpatrick didn’t enter industry with a specific career path in mind. Rather, she tended to seek out and follow the most interesting and difficult problems she could find.

It was at times a circuitous path, but she solved a lot of thorny problems along the way as she followed her interests through a series of specializations—from process engineering to controls engineering and middle management at Celanese. She jumped to Mustang Engineering (an embedded contractor, now Wood) where she’s gone through stints of technical practice leadership, systems optimization and consulting. Today, Fitzpatrick serves as Process Automation Authority for the global consultancy and engineering firm, Wood, where she also leads the Process Automation Systems domain of the Global Technical Expert Network.

“I will admit to being an engineer at heart, looking to solve problems,” she says. “Or, as Peter Martin would say, ‘Save the World!’ ”

Along the way, Fitzpatrick also picked up an MBA in Technology Management from the University of Phoenix, which came in handy setting technology strategy at Celanese and in more recent efforts to help Wood’s clients chart survival and leadership paths. Through workshops and other in-depth operational analyses, she focuses on unlocking solutions across the entire value chain.

Of late, she’s had a hand in the work of the Open Process Automation Forum, and has helped spread the word of the benefits of the IEC 61499 standard in enabling a new generation of open and interoperable distributed control systems. But her standards work with the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium was perhaps most formative.

“One of the other things I found over time was that the science was relatively easy to solve, but that getting humans to do the right thing was a different matter entirely,” she says. “So, much of my career has focused on getting the right information to the right people at the right time—a fair bit of focus on HMI, alarm management and human factors.”

Fitzpatrick has derived considerable satisfaction in helping to make steady progress at improving operator response by providing better controls, better interfaces and better alarms. Indeed, it was her contributions to the “innovative improvement of alarm management and HMI design practices” for which she was named an ISA Fellow.

At Maine’s Saint Croix Island, Bridget Fitzpatrick “strolled” with this statue of a Passamaquoddy woman.

“And really, the relationships are what I remember most strongly,” she adds. “When I think back, I think of the coworkers and clients that I value and had fun working with first—and when I look closer, we were generally doing innovative things to solve challenging problems.”

When she’s not solving industry’s problems, Fitzpatrick clearly enjoys nature, and confesses to a bit of an obsession with National Parks. “I’ve travelled extensively for work over the years, and anywhere I go, be prepared for ‘Wait, wait—there’s a brown sign with white letters!’” She also enjoys “playing with investments” and has led investment clubs designed to inspire younger generations to get started early.

“My advice is that you should pursue things that you enjoy,” she says, of her advice to those just getting started in industry. “Work hours are too much of your waking hours to not enjoy it. Find things you like and see what develops into a passion.”

And don’t let accepted norms constrain innovation, she adds. “You must break the current mold to create anything truly new. Incremental, slow improvement is a good thing. But also look for the breakthrough concept, then figure out how to engineer the pace of change to be safe."

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.