Automation Founders Circle
Contributing to excellence brings rewards
ISA’s new awards program celebrates excellence in automation
EDITOR’S NOTE: ISA continues its tradition of honoring leaders throughout the automation industry. The Automation Founders Circle features the personal stories of outstanding automation professionals who carry on the legacy of industry pioneers and ISA founders Albert F. Sperry, innovator, business leader, and first ISA President (1946) and Arnold O. Beckman, inventor, founder of Beckman Instruments, and ISA President (1952).
By Walt Boyes
Throughout its 66 year history, the International Society of Automation (ISA) has bestowed honors upon those who have made special contributions through the Society’s awards program. This year, ISA is pleased to introduce a new awards program that will continue its tradition of honoring leaders throughout the automation industry.
“As a technical organization, acknowledgement of technical contributions is a key element of the Society’s awards program,” said ISA President Robert E. Lindeman. “The Celebrating Excellence awards program honors companies and individuals, both members and non-members, for significant contributions in leadership, technical innovation, and contributions to education that have advanced the profession.”
As a volunteer-driven organization, ISA depends on its members and leaders to advance the mission of the Society around the world. Thousands of volunteers work tirelessly on ISA’s world-class standards, renowned training and certification programs, award-winning publications, and cutting-edge conferences and exhibitions. Celebrating Excellence also honors dedicated individual volunteer service and the exceptional efforts of Sections and Divisions to advance the mission of the Society. The new Celebrating Excellence Member’s Choice awards allow members to nominate and vote to select ISA members who have demonstrated exceptional leadership.
Excellence in Individual Technical Innovation
endowed by UOP
“I am a physicist by education,” said Shankar B. Baliga of General Monitors, “with specialization in infrared physics and spectroscopy. I did my undergraduate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and obtained my Ph.D. from the Ohio State University, which is well known and long established in spectroscopy research.”
Baliga continued, “Though I was initially interested in fundamental physics, by the end of graduate school I found myself more interested in optical instrumentation and sensing technologies.” Like many automation professionals, Baliga was drawn to the practice after originally intending to do something else.
Baliga is currently working on neural networks and other machine learning techniques that can be equally applied to other sensing technologies for process safety. “Needless to say, the design, selection, and performance of the underlying sensors remain paramount,” he said.
“The award recognizes my contribution to flame detection,” Baliga said, “using algorithms based on artificial neural networks. These algorithms have been implemented in industry leading infrared flame detectors since 2006.”
Baliga went on, “False alarms can be a persistent problem with flame detectors when detecting the presence of flames against background infrared radiation. Such alarms may result in productivity losses as process units or entire plants are shut down, personnel are evacuated, and plant and community emergency response teams are mobilized to address possible hazards.”
The triggering of fire suppression systems also leads to costly discharges of fire extinguishing agents and their replacement, he said. “To reduce flame detectors’ propensity for false alarms, our team developed an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) processing algorithm for flame detection and classification. The neural network algorithm processes signals across multiple infrared spectral bands to identify patterns distinguishing flames from false alarms.”
Baliga noted that a significant trade-off in developing flame detectors is between effective false alarm rejection and the development of expert rules. Flame detector manufacturers have employed signal-processing techniques such as correlation, channel ratios, frequency analysis, periodicity checks, and threshold crossing to discriminate flames from non-flame sources. This so-called expert system approach, he said, is particularly useful when analyzing signals from, say, two sensors, each at a different wavelength. However, expert systems become increasingly complex as the number of optical channels increase. ANN-based algorithms break the trade-off between flame detection accuracy and rule development. In constructing an ANN detection algorithm, development time is shifted to computer optimization and reduces the burden on the human expert.
“The invention has broken the long-standing trade-off between the speed of response and false alarm rejection prevalent with conventional flame detectors. With neural network-based designs, flame detectors can be faster and more accurate than before,” Baliga said.
Baliga sees some challenges ahead for the automation profession.
“One challenge I see in the automation profession is education,” he said. “To solve the most vexing problems in the field requires a wide variety of skills. In my flame detection project, for example, infrared detection, flame spectroscopy, atmospheric effects, signal processing, and algorithm development were all areas of importance. A professional’s ability to contribute in several technical fields helps.”
Excellence in Individual Technical Innovation
endowed by UOP
“I was born and raised in the small town of El Dorado, Kansas,” said Bob Farmer, ISA Fellow, of Siemens Industry. “The town was in the middle of the Kansas oil fields and boasted two oil refineries.”
Farmer said, “I ended up in the automation world totally by coincidence. When I graduated from college in 1974, I was pretty sure there was no future in ‘microprocessors,’ and digital electronics in general held very little interest for me. Instead, I wanted to proceed further with my hobby in amateur radio and communications design. I certainly had no aims at process automation. However, my first job with Applied Automation—then owned by the Phillips Petroleum Company—led me directly to process measurement and control. So my plans got changed. However, the general subject of communications has continued for me.”
Farmer continued, “I was always very interested in electrical circuits and the application of electronic designs, and I obtained an amateur radio license when I was a teenager. One of my summer jobs was working as a TV repairman, delivery boy, and antenna installer for a local two-way radio and television retailer. After high school, I went on to study electrical engineering at Kansas State University.
“Following college, I came to the company that was then Applied Automation in Bartlesville, Okla.,” Farmer said. “I have remained there ever since, as the company itself has changed owners a number of times. Today, we are a part of the Process Analysis business of Siemens.
“My award citation is for advances in the application of communication systems in process analytics,” Farmer said. “Despite my erroneous college notions about the usefulness of digital circuitry, it turned out after I started work that I was just in the right place at the right time.
“The oil and gas and petrochemical industries in the U.S. were booming following the first oil embargo of the 1970s. There was enormous interest and drive to improve process control techniques. Honeywell and others were introducing major changes in process control instrumentation, and the term ‘Distributed Control Systems’ arose at that time.
“Of course,” he said, “in chemicals processing where multiple-component fluid mixtures are involved, process control can often be greatly improved by continuous composition measurement, and that is where Applied Automation was able to contribute. Gas chromatographs in particular produce a lot of analytical data, and the measurement technique pushed way past the practical limits of old style analog-loop data links.”
“The combination—Distributed Control Systems, high demand for continuous process data, and a flexible measurement technique that produced lots of data—created a natural environment that promoted the development of communication systems directly intended for process analytics. I was very interested in this kind of work, and I enjoyed working with the end users who were our customers to understand the very subjective aspects of this kind of system design. As many people realize, often the subjective aspects of system design, as much as the functional aspects, are what make the systems useful or not.”
Farmer continued, “At the same time, I was extremely fortunate to work with other people who were very creative in software and electronic design. These people readily accepted guidance that influenced not just the functions they designed but also actually the way in which the functions were implemented. Therefore, my ideas about what could make communications systems more or less useful could be brought to reality. In the days when electronic hardware was limited, memory cost thousands of dollars for handfuls of bytes, processors were slow, and Ethernet cost over $2000 per connection, creativity in system design was very important. I was fortunate to be able to help with these kinds of limitations.”
Farmer said, “One of the big challenges we work on in process analytics today is the issue of presenting communications functions in an understandable way to the users of the process analytics systems. Users often know in general terms what their functional needs are. But usually, their ideas about how those functions should be fulfilled are rather vague. It’s easy, for example, to watch a modern science fiction movie and see characters talking to computers and having things happen exactly as they are supposed to. But in reality, of course, different people think about the same tasks—and want to approach the performance of those tasks—in different ways. In a movie, it’s possible for the computer to simply understand underlying desires and intent and therefore to do exactly what is expected.”
Not so, Farmer pointed out. “In reality, we have technology limitations, and the system designer has to understand what the user will need and want. Therefore, the task of the system designer today is to implement needed functions in a cost-effective manner and then present the user with control of those functions in a way that will be meaningful to him or her. Often, today, that is a software design challenge.”
Additionally, this challenge is currently made more difficult in the process analytics business because of the relatively small number of users. Designing systems or software that will be purchased in quantities of hundreds or thousands implies far different budget and resource considerations than design of systems that will be used by millions.
“The challenges for the industry today, I think, are much the same as they have always been. Obviously, an Ethernet connection no longer costs a prohibitive $2,000, and memory and bandwidth limitations are greatly eased. But that doesn’t change the questions that must be answered,” Farmer said. “Rather, new hardware only changes the ways in which answers might be implemented. Systems still succeed or fail based on the combination of function and style. System users still have very real functional needs, but they also still have very human perspectives on how those functions should be implemented.
“Usually, the capabilities that system designers have are never enough to meet human perspectives on need. Therefore, someone must understand both the capability and the need and then strike the balance,” he said. “That is still a big challenge.
“I greatly appreciate the award I am being presented,” Farmer said. “At the same time, I absolutely feel that I can receive this award only as a sort of representative for a larger number of people. I think my contribution is only my effort to understand the needs of system users and balance those needs with realizable capabilities. But the hard work of being creative and of designing and testing and building and installing and teaching and supporting and all the rest is done by many other people. We all owe thanks to those many that do this work every day.”
Excellence in Leadership
“I started accidentally in automation,” Excellence in Leadership award recipient Paul Galeski of Maverick Technologies said. “I had a friend who arranged for a summer internship for me at Monsanto Chemical Company after my freshman year of college. At that time I had no idea what automation was, but, once exposed, I found that I loved it. I found the unique requirements of understanding control systems, mechanical systems, and process engineering to be inspiring and challenging.”
Galeski is 52 years old. He holds a Bachelors’ degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and is also a graduate of the professional leadership program at the Harvard Business School. He is a Professional Engineer, as well as a Certified Automation Professional. Personally, he said, “I enjoy baseball, bowling, and spending time with my family and friends at our 101-acre ranch in Ellington, Missouri, where we raise goats, cattle, and a little hell on weekends.”
Galeski’s award citation is “For …creating a paradigm shift in systems integration by establishing and leading two cutting-edge firms to global prominence in less than ten years, and for advancing automation through technical and strategic business solutions.”
“I am very proud to say that I have worked, along with the support of many others, to successfully build what I believe is the best industrial automation services company in the industry,” Galeski said. “I am honored and blessed to lead a group of over 500 passionate professionals who think, care, and work hard for our customers. I feel that we have made a difference in the automation profession by building a company that holds over 12,000 man-years of collective experience and has successfully executed over 10,000 projects in 46 countries. All told, Maverick and its derivative companies have effectively deployed over $1 billion of automation services globally.
“We are honored to serve many of the leading companies in the process world,” Galeski said. “We have grown to the level of trusted advisor status. At Maverick we work every day to transcend the old stereotype of the traditional ‘automation systems integration company.’”
Personally, Galeski said, he is working to grow as a leader. “I feel it is incumbent upon me personally to continue to develop and grow as both a leader and a person, so that I can continue to meet the ever-increasing challenges of business and technology. It is also incumbent upon our company to continually improve, grow, and innovate so we can help our customers provide higher quality products more cost-effectively and safely.
“I see the biggest challenge facing the automation profession to be identifying and educating the next generation of automation professionals and leaders. Due to a combination of tough economic conditions, an aging workforce, and offshoring of manufacturing assets, the automation professional workforce is diminishing at a time where demand is actually increasing. The obsolescence of first- and second-generation control systems is creating a great demand for experienced professionals that are needed to develop, design, and implement large and complex automation systems. I feel strongly that it is incumbent upon the automation profession to work to make global manufacturing safer, more efficient, and environmentally friendly.”
Galeski went on, “I am very interested in helping to grow future automation industry leaders. My passion is identifying individual potential leaders and helping them to develop the attributes required for personal and professional success.
“In order to get the best and brightest into the automation profession,” Galeski said, “we must work to show the world that being an automation professional is ‘cool’ and ‘exciting,’ which it is; people just don’t realize it.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Walt Boyes is a Life Fellow, ISA; Fellow, InstMC; and a Chartered Measurement and Control Technologist. He is editor-in-chief of Control and ControlGlobal.com, and a principal in Spitzer and Boyes, LLC, a high-tech consulting firm.