Q&A with Chad J. Kiger

As EMC Engineering Manager at AMS Corporation, Chad J. Kiger, PE, oversees his employer's state-of-the-art electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing laboratory, and is responsible for developing the company's EMC, wireless compatibility, and cable testing capabilities. Within ISA, Kiger is a member of ISA's Oak Ridge Section (Tennessee) and serves as the Nuclear Session Chair for ISA's Power Industry Division (POWID) Symposium. In 2016, Kiger was elevated to the distinguished grade of ISA Fellow in recognition of his outstanding professional achievements.


Could you provide some background on your education (degree/s received) and academic areas of emphasis?


I received bachelor of science and master of science degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee (UT).  I received the Bodenheimer Fellowship for my master of science degree. I was a researcher in UT's Wireless Communications Research Group and performed work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  My project was to determine the coexistence of wireless communication protocols in a nuclear power plant environment.  My research was used to develop several Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) contractor reports.  The main one was NRC NUREG/CR 6939. 

In addition, I recently began work on doctorate program through Tennessee Technological University for Electrical Engineering, focusing on RF Communications and Signal Processing.  I expect to get my degree in late 2017 or spring of 2018. My dissertation centers on the use of Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR) for aging and condition assessment of instrumentation and control cables in nuclear power plants.


What initially attracted you to the field of automation...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest? 


I have always been fascinated by technology.  I am more of a hands-on person and wanted to determine how things work.  In addition, I always liked solving problems.  That is what first drew me to electrical engineering.  Like many people, I had no clue about what I wanted to do while in school.  Once I got to graduate school, I was introduced to the nuclear industry.  I was intrigued by the thought of radiation and working in yellow suits.  That is not really what the industry is all about, as I learned later.  It was the idea of helping generate nuclear power that drew me to the industry. 

Once I received my graduate degree, my good friend and mentor at ORNL, the late Paul Ewing, introduced me to Dr. Hash Hashemian and Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation (AMS).  Paul knew I wanted to stay in the nuclear field and that Dr. Hashemian owned a nuclear company.  I can still remember my initial interviews at AMS.  At AMS, I would help ensure that plants meet technical specifications so they could continue to operate.  Now, I am involved with troubleshooting electrical noise in control and instrumentation systems at nuclear power plants-issues that could prevent them from generating power.  You feel a real sense of accomplishment when you provide a fix for a critical path issue that then allows the plant to go to 100% power. 


Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation.


I am currently the EMC Engineering Manager at AMS, where I've been for nearly 11 years now.  I began as an Instrumentation Engineer and worked on Encoder systems for Neutron Flux detectors in nuclear power plants.  I also became a certified in LabVIEW, and developed and created software for various data acquisition systems used in nuclear power plants.  From there I got involved in Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC). 

In 2008, I was tasked with overseeing the technology transfer of information from a company we had purchased called CHAR services.  In 2012, I helped to establish AMS' EMC laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee. The lab is currently under expansion to include a larger semi-anechoic chamber.  My current focus has been verifying that nuclear power plant equipment will not be vulnerable to mobile wireless devices.  This work is similar to that performed in the airline industry.  To identify any vulnerabilities, we have developed a signal generation/reception system capable of simulating signals from wireless devices and subjecting them to nuclear power plant equipment.  When vulnerabilities are identified, we develop methods for mitigation.  Included in this work is developing the methods and procedures to contain the RF signals to the equipment under test and prevent interference with surrounding equipment in the nuclear power plant environment. 


How did you get involved in ISA and what is your current level/degree of involvement in ISA (leader positions, section involvement, etc.)?


I was first introduced to ISA while in graduate school.  I submitted a paper and presented at the Society's International Instrumentation Symposium in Knoxville, Tennessee.   The conference featured a session on the use of wireless sensors in industrial environments.  From there, I got involved in the ISA Sensors Expo, where I participated with my company president on a steering committee for industrial wireless projects.  (I also served as the 2009 Standards and Practice chair within my local ISA section.)

Soon after that I began regularly attending ISA's Power Industry Division (POWID) Symposium. I would present papers and serve as a session chair.  Eventually I made my way onto the POWID Executive Committee and most recently served as the Nuclear Session Chair for the 2016 POWID conference.  I am slated to serve in the same role at next year's conference. 

What drew me to the sensors world, especially in the nuclear arena, was the ability to help bring new (relatively speaking) technologies to the industry.  The nuclear industry is slow to adopt new technologies because of various barriers.  I believed that wireless technology could assist the industry in many ways, including providing condition monitoring, electronic work packages, voice and data communications, etc.  It was important to me to be in a position to know who can influence these initiatives and assist with any technological barriers to implementation.  I feel that associations like ISA are the best avenues for accomplishing these tasks.  


How would you say ISA has benefited you?


One of the best benefits of ISA is the networking.  I have met many clients, colleagues, and friends at ISA events.  Sometimes it happens over a two-minute phone call and sometimes over a five-year working relationship, but it is great to be able to interact with experts in the same field as myself.  Through involvement with the POWID Symposium, I've learned about working as a team with limited time and resources, and have helping to bring about a successful conference year after year. 

You come to learn and appreciate the time and efforts that others are putting into ISA and their profession with no incentive other than the desire to help make something a success.  Another benefit has been the sharing of information across the various generations within the industry.  With many people retiring, it is important to capture the knowledge and insights of experienced professionals and learn from their mistakes.  Otherwise, we will just be grappling with and trying to solve the same problems.


You were recently elevated to ISA Fellow. Could you describe or explain what this distinguished achievement means to you?


I feel very blessed to have received this honor. This is not something that I expected. I am humbled to have received this award and to be recognized with the others who were inducted with me.  I feel a burden to live up to the standards of other ISA Fellows that I have known.  For me, this is motivation to continue to work and help move forward the initiatives that I and others have started.  This is by no means an end and is not a time to sit back and admire accomplishments.  I have not accomplished anywhere near what others have.  I will see it as a constant reminder to keep pursuing more in hopes that I will one day see myself in the same league as other Fellows I have had the honor of knowing.  It is a time to stop and give thanks to those who have helped me, whether I deserved it or not, become the engineer that I am today. 

It would not have been possible without leaders and mentors such as Paul Ewing, Dr. Hashemian, and Dan Beverly.  They helped pave the way for my technological career.  I must also thank my parents, Ricky and Janice Kiger, who taught me the meaning of hard work and in taking pride in what you do.  Most importantly, I must thank my wife, Suzi, for putting up with my work hours and my many days spent on the road while she was raising our four children (Makenzie, Olivia, Graham, and Nolan).  I am nothing without them.