• Meet our Members

    Q&A with Todd McKinney

    Todd McKinney
    Todd McKinney

    Please provide us with some general information about yourself, such as current ISA involvement and job position, etc.

    I have been a member of the ISA Paducah Section (Paducah, Kentucky) since 1991. I’ve previously served as the section President, Vice-President, and Program Chairman. I’m currently serving as the Secretary of the section.  My current job position is Engineering Manager at Westlake Chemical in Calvert City, Kentucky.

    Could you provide some educational background and how and why you became interested in a career in automation?

    In 1987, I received a bachelor of science degree (Cum Laude graduate) in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla.  (The university has since changed its name to the Missouri University of Science and Technology.)  I earned a Professional Engineer (PE) license in the state of Kentucky in 1993.

    I was born and raised in Paducah by parents that owned and operated an elevator company. Growing up I was always interested in figuring out how things worked. Taking things apart and “most of the time” putting them back together. As an electrical engineering student I was interested in the electronics area of the field. As I got older, I worked with my father at the elevator company and learned a lot about troubleshooting control problems with limit switches, relays, etc.  I think this led to my interest in the automation field.

    Tell us about your current role and function—both in terms of your career and your involvement in ISA.

    As mentioned, my current job position is Engineering Manager at a chemical plant. I began my career as an electrical engineer at a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) coal-fired power plant in Tennessee. I then worked at IBM as an electrical engineer, working with fiber optics communication equipment in New York. I then worked ten years at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah. The plant was operated by Lockheed Martin for a few years and later by the United Stated Enrichment Corporation. At the facility, I held positions as Instrument Engineer, Design Engineer, Manager of a Maintenance Engineering Group, and Assistant Manager of the I/E Maintenance Department. 

    Over the last 15 years, I have worked at Westlake Chemical in Calvert City. The first 13 years I worked as an Instrumentation and Controls Engineer. I’m now the Manager of the Engineering Department. In this position, I supervise mechanical, electrical as well as instrumentation and control engineers. As a group, we are responsible for managing multi-million dollar projects along with providing technical support to the plant.

    I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of pressure, temperature, flow, level, and analytical instrumentation as well as various DCS and PLC control systems throughout my career. This has made it very challenging and exciting. Instrumentation and control systems are always improving and it is important to keep up with the latest technology. ISA has been a big benefit in helping me keep up with the latest technical developments.

    I joined ISA in 1991 while working at the Lockheed Martin uranium enrichment facility. My supervisor and several others at the facility were ISA members and I was highly encouraged to join also. If I remember correctly, I was handed an ISA application and told to fill it out if I wanted to advance my career. Several employees of this facility were charter members of the ISA Paducah Section and played integral roles in growing and sustaining the section.  

    I have been very fortunate to be a part of the Paducah section. In 2016 we will hold our 50th Annual Instrumentation and Automation Show. We have a close-knit group in which everyone pitches in to support the show as well as support each other. This section supports a scholarship that is offered to engineering students at a local college. I have had many friends and mentors from this section, some that have since passed on. I learned a lot from these guys over the years about technical issues and gained a great deal of career advice as well. In 2009 I was honored to receive the ISA Distinguished Society Service Award.

    How would you say that ISA has benefitted you?

    ISA has helped me in many ways.  I have learned so much from other ISA members over the years. The Society has provided me the opportunity to network with other automation professionals with varied degrees of experience in a wide variety of industries.  ISA also provided opportunities to improve my leadership skills.

    ISA has many resources that have helped me learn more about instrumentation and automation fundamentals as well as stay current with the latest technical developments. These resources include technical publications, conferences and training programs as well as section meetings.

    What advice would you give to other young professionals entering the automation profession?

    First of all, I would recommend young automation professionals join ISA. The Society offers many ways to learn about automation fundamentals and stay current with the latest technical developments as well as gain mentoring and career guidance. 

    In addition, I would recommend the following:

    • Be willing to learn from others and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
    • Work hard and take advantage of opportunities that you are offered.
    • Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to do things that others can’t or don’t want to do.