Q&A with Tom McAvinew

While fully retired from Audubon Engineering Services—a global Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) services provider serving the oil & gas, petrochemical, refining, and pipeline industries—Tom McAvinew continues to be highly active within ISA. An ISA member for more than 50 years, McAvinew serves as a Managing Director on the ISA Standards and Practices Department Board and as Chair of the ISA 5 Committee, Documentation Standards.

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

As a fresh-out chemical engineer, I went to work for Uniroyal Chemicals in Naugatuck, Connecticut within the company’s Engineering Development Department's pilot plant. In the course of that first year, I became very interested in process control and the application of new and modified instrumentation, particularly analytical instrumentation. This led to my transfer to the company’s Instrument Development Group under the mentorship of Marv Weiss, a long-time ISA member and analytical expert. Marv said to me that if I wanted to work for him, I really needed to join ISA. I joined ISA in 1964 and have never regretted.

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

Throughout my career I have held a range of positions, including Supervisor, Group Leader and Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer. I’ve worked for companies such as American Cyanamid, Union Carbide, Air Products and Chemicals, Vertech Treatment Systems, and Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Denver, Colorado). I’ve also worked for Jacobs Engineering, Zap Engineering, and Audubon Engineering Services in the consulting and Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) arena.

I earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Lowell Technological Institute (now University of Massachusetts – Lowell) in 1963. After graduation, I migrated into the field of analytical and process control instrumentation in chemicals and plastics, air separation, wastewater treatment, and oil and gas industries. After I joined ISA in 1964, I became deeply involved in documentation and standards.

I also have to say that becoming a Control Systems Professional Engineer (PE) in 1992 (the first year it was offered nationally), which was championed by ISA, was very important in my career development and success.

Could you tell us about your involvement in ISA?

As I mentioned, I joined ISA in 1964. I became very involved in ISA standards development beginning in the 1970s. I held numerous committee and chair positions within the Standards and Practices Department, principally in the area of documentation standards.

I’ve also been active in ISA in other ways over the years. I served as President of ISA’s Denver Section for three terms, was the District 8 Vice President (1996-1998), and held the post of Section Delegate for more than 10 years. I also served as Vice President of the Standards & Practices Board from 2007-2009 and served on the ISA Board of Directors during that time. I’m currently a Managing Director on ISA’s Standards and Practices Department Board and Chair of the ISA 5 Committee, Documentation Standards. I also serve as the S&P Liaison for the Water and Wastewater Industries Division and the Publications Department.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

ISA membership has offered me a unique path to professional/technical networking and has provided good old-fashioned comradery and long-lasting friendships within the I&C/automation community.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

As for advice, I'd have to recommend that someone entering this field shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty. Nothing beats good old hands-on experience. The greatest theory and modern-day hardware is nothing unless one understands the application of that theory and hardware. Just because something can be done is worthless unless the application is appropriate.