• By Jack Smith
  • The Final Say

Portrait of Nick Sands
ISA Fellow Nick Sands
Nick Sands was elevated to ISA Fellow in 2012 for his work in alarm management and safety systems. He has worked for DuPont for more than 32 years, all in automation roles, and is currently a Senior Technology Fellow as well as the company subject expert for safety instrumented systems (SIS) and alarm management. He was the co-chair of the ISA18 committee from 2003 until 2022.

InTech asked Sands to elaborate on his automation career, experience with ISA, thoughts on becoming a Fellow, and automation challenges.

InTech: How did you get involved in automation?

Nick Sands: It started when I worked as a co-op at Tennessee Eastman. The company had a great program, with many different types of assignments. My first was in the manufacturing information systems group and I learned that computers ran the chemical plant. That was it. Since there was no automation engineering program at Virginia Tech, I took all the courses I could that were related to automation in the chemical engineering, chemistry, and electrical engineering departments. I was going to be an automation engineer.

InTech: How did you get involved with ISA?

Sands: I joined the local ISA section in Victoria, Texas when I started working after graduating from Virginia Tech. The senior engineers encouraged me to join ISA and the meetings were fun, educational, and social. A few years later, I wrote a paper and submitted it to the Chemical and Petroleum Industries Division (ChemPID) for the conference with the ISA Expo. That was an amazing experience and opened my eyes to how important ISA was (and is) to the automation industry. I was hooked. The people from ChemPID were welcoming and I’ve been a member of the division ever since.

InTech: What advice do you have for ISA members seeking to become ISA Fellows?

Sands: It’s important to highlight that ISA Fellow is a membership grade awarded for impact on automation and not for service to ISA. ISA does provide many opportunities to develop expertise and to make an impact. Participation in divisions and especially standards committees let you interact with experts and become an expert. ISA conferences and InTech let you share knowledge and experience to help others on their journey, creating an impact.

The ISA18 standard committee’s effort on the first global alarm management standard, ISA-18.2-2009, was that type of experience for me. I had no idea going in how that one effort would change my career, from the many friends to the papers and presentations, to the implementation in my company. So many new opportunities opened over time.

My advice is to be ready to say yes when the opportunity comes and to put in the work to make it successful. And then repeat.

InTech: What do you see as the greatest challenge in automation today?

Sands: One of the biggest challenges is that of developing and maintaining automation competency in manufacturing, in my view from working in manufacturing. Automation competency is a wide scope. It includes instrumentation, programming, safety systems, alarms, human-machine interface (HMI), control theory, networking, integration, security, and performance of all the parts. The challenges include the range of technologies, with many that are obsolete, the reduced staffing at plants, the retirement of many knowledgeable resources, and the continued lack of an automation engineering program in many countries, like the U.S.

The solution probably has many parts and should be sustainable. Competency goes beyond training to practice and eventually to expertise. ISA and many future ISA Fellows have a role to play.

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About The Authors

Jack Smith is a senior contributing editor for Automation.com and ISA’s InTech magazine. He has been a trade journalist for 22 years.