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2008 Process Automation Hall of Fame

Feb. 4, 2008
A Walk in the Hall. Manager/System Architect/Teacher: This Year's Crop of Everyday Process Automation Heroes
Read the additional material we coudn't fit in our print edition of this article. Check ControlGlobal.com/halloffameextras.htmlAlso, listen to Walt Boyes talking to the 2008 inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame.

By Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

Every year, in the February issue, we announce the new class of inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame. This year’s class joins a group of luminaries in the art and practice of automation in the process industries (see The Process Automation Hall of Fame at the end of this article). We are proud to introduce you to three men who have had a significant impact on what we all do every day.

The Project Manager

Vern Trevathan, profiled in the ControlTalk column in March 2007 (Best of the best, Part 3), has been involved in the process industries for over 43 years, starting at Monsanto, where he became superintendent of process control technology, then manager of process control engineering and, finally, manager of project managers and manager of manufacturing control. When Solutia was spun off, Trevathan became manager of engineering for all design disciplines, both corporate and plant level. After retiring from Solutia, he became vice-president of Benham Company’s system integration group.

“I had great summer jobs,” Trevathan said, talking of his early years. He became convinced he wanted to work in the process industry. “Monsanto was the most convincing,” Trevathan went on, “Due to the efforts of Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams and other control giants of that period, Monsanto was further along in the use of computers for control than just about anybody in the process industry.”

“After I got to Monsanto,” Trevathan admitted, “I realized just how inadequate my engineering education had been.” Monsanto’s mentoring and internal education programs were outstanding, Trevathan says. “Without those programs, I’m not sure I would ever have been converted from an electrical engineer that knew almost nothing about industrial automation to having a pretty good grasp.”

In 1992, Trevathan got himself appointed to coordinate all process control projects in the company. Aided by a large benchmarking project, he showed Monsanto’s corporate management that he could get more value from the existing digital control systems—documenting new ongoing control benefits of $60 million per year, with almost no capital expenditure. “Key to this was a new methodology of looking at the process for financial benefit opportunities, without regard to how well it was running or how well it was maintained,” Trevathan revealed, “and then focusing specifically on realizing the larger of those specific benefit opportunities. This was a very disruptive type program.”

When he retired, he says, his wife told him to get a job.

He went to work for a system integrator. “That was a very different experience, working with young engineers who did not have the training or background of the Monsanto engineers.”

So when he retired from his retirement job, he decided to devote his time to improving education for young automation professionals. He became the principal editor and author of A Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge for ISA and one of the guiding lights behind the Certified Automation Professional (CAP) program.

Trevathan sees six primary trends for the future of automation—some of them not all good. The rate of advancement of technology is getting faster. There’s a real focus on project benefits. There is an improved emphasis on project management tools and training. There’s a convergence of IT and automation. There are increasing shortages of well-trained people entering the field, and there is an increasing gap between the knowledge level of automation professionals and the technology.

“We need to be doing much more to show students in high school and even earlier that engineering is a good career,” Trevathan says. “Of course, manufacturing in general needs a big boost as a career choice.”

The End User Turned System Architect

“I was born with ‘The Knack,’” says William M. Hawkins, “and I developed electrical and mechanical skills. Father worked for Foxboro from 1950 to 1977. He asked me to help him with the HVAC drawings for a quote on a SAGE center. I thought that was interesting, but space ships were more interesting. Fortunately, I did not have the grades from MIT to be accepted by NASA in 1960, so my father asked the chief instrument engineer at Hercules if there were any openings. I started at a Hercules blasting cap plant in upstate New York designing test instrumentation for commercial and small military explosive devices. I loved being able to design equipment to requirements and see the process through to use of the design.”

“My first field trip was to a plant that had a 60,000 SCFM compressor for a nitric acid process that was surging on a process trip. First we found an expansion sleeve plugging the vent silencer, using a big crane to get it down. Then we found the cause of the trips in a junction box under the stairs. It had no cover, so nitric acid that formed in moisture rotted the connector. I was hooked and loved the work.”

Hercules was looking at computer control systems in 1979 and happened to be courted by the Rosemount Diogenes sales rep. I asked if they had any openings, after being impressed by the system, and started work in Minneapolis in January of 1980 as system engineering manager. I became the control architect, with my 20 years of user experience. The RS3 system meant more to me than any space ship.”

The Emerson acquisition put a stop to RS3 development, Hawkins recounted. “I found work in fieldbus through friends, and made some satisfying contributions.”

Some contributions. For the SP50 Fieldbus standard, he contributed to the design of control function blocks. Joining SP88, he helped develop the concept of separation of recipe and equipment, and he was one of the founders and officers of World Batch Forum (WBF) until 2007.

Hawkins says, “A person with a knack for engineering needs a way to build satisfying things, usually with other people’s money. I was disappointed to not be able to build space ships, but process control really stretched my talents for electrical, electronic and mechanical engineering.

“I was beginning to see repetition in the work at Hercules when I went to Rosemount, but I soon saw the variety in tackling problems from many different plants in many different countries. Fortunately, there were greater opportunities in ISA standards committees SP-50 and SP-88, where I could apply my experience to create new designs.”

Hawkins sums it up. “It looks like I am a late bloomer, or as the Pennsylvania Dutch say, “Too soon old, too late smart.” But I have gone from being a shy engineer much better with things than people to someone more comfortable with people (engineers, not politicians). Writing a book was hard, but got easier as it came together. Overall, there are things in my life that I’d change, but my career isn’t one of them.”

The Teacher

Wisconsin native, Dale E. Seborg has been a member of academia his entire career. Seborg has taught widely in chemical engineering and process control at Princeton, the University of Alberta and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Seborg has so far in his career, mentored 38 masters’ theses and 24 PhD theses, all the while continuing to teach undergrad courses.

Seborg has received many awards for his teaching prowess, and is also, with Hall-of-Famer Tom Edgar from the University of Texas at Austin and Duncan Mellichamp, also of UC Santa Barbara, the co-author of one of the most widely used textbooks for process control—Process Dynamics and Control, 2nd ed. (2004). So that Seborg, Edgar and Mellichamp can extend their already wide influence over the way process control is practiced, their textbook is being translated into Chinese—impacting a whole new crop of chemical and process control engineers.

“Throughout my career,” Seborg says, “a key research objective has been to help bridge the acclaimed gap between control theory and industrial practice. In particular, I require my PhD students to so some experimental work as part of their PhD program.”

Seborg is one of the five principal investigators of the Process Systems Engineering Consortium (PSEC), a collaboration between the University of Massachusetts, the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Illinois. The mission of PSEC is to create systematic methods for the rapid invention, development and operation of industrial processes to manufacture high-value products, such as specialty chemicals, pharmaceuticals, polymers, home and personal health care products, forest products and selected food products, using batch or continuous systems involving liquids, gases, organic solids, microstructured liquids, biochemicals and polymers. PSEC is involved in a variety of educational and training activities ranging from textbooks to focused short courses offered directly to industry.

And if that weren’t enough, Seborg serves on the Editorial Board for the Springer-Verlag book series on Advances in Industrial Control.

The Process Automation Hall of Fame

Since 2001, we’ve honored the best of the best in process automation:

  • Karl Astrom
  • Terry Blevins
  • Edgar H. Bristol II
  • Richard H. Caro
  • Lynn Craig
  • James H. Cristensen
  • Charles Cutler
  • Thomas F. Edgar
  • William M. Hawkins
  • Marion G. “Bud” Keyes
  • Bèla Liptàk
  • William L. “Bill” Luyben
  • Gregory K. McMillan
  • Richard E. Morley
  • Dr. R. Russell Rhinehart
  • Wyman “Cy” Rutledge
  • Dale E. Seborg
  • F. G. “Greg” Shinskey
  • Thomas M. Stout
  • Angela Summers
  • Terry Tolliver
  • Vernon R. Trevathan
  • Harold Wade
  • Kathleen Waters
  • Ted Williams
  • Read the additional material we coudn't fit in our print edition of this article. Check ControlGlobal.com/halloffameextras.htmlAlso, listen to Walt Boyes talking to the 2008 inductees to the Process Automation Hall of Fame.

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