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Editor’s note: Readers urged us to honor a significant contributor to industrial process control, Simon Ramo, PhD.

Remembering Simon Ramo, PhD, forefather of modern industrial process control

By Terry McMahon

Simon Ramo, PhDSimon Ramo, PhD (1913–2016), who passed away on 27 June at the age of 103, was instrumental in initiating modern industrial process control in the mid-1950s. Ramo was an engineering visionary whose primary field of innovation was aerospace, but who developed sensor-based real-time digital computing technology as a necessary tool for his work. As a visionary, he realized that this tool had wide-ranging potential in many other fields.

Accordingly, he entered into a partnership with Dean Wooldridge, PhD, founding Ramo-Wooldridge, an early manufacturer of sensor-based computers. The company made the RW-300, one of the first all-transistor computers. Many, if not most, of the computer process control systems installed before 1960 were based on the RW-300. The first closed-loop (sensor to actuator) implemented in the petroleum-chemical industry was on 15 March 1959 on a catalytic isomerization unit in Texaco’s Port Arthur Refinery using an RW-300.

TRW RW-300 console model
TRW RW-300 console model

Although the potential for computer-based industrial control had been discussed as early as 1948 by researchers at MIT and 1952 by researchers at Shell Development, it was Ramo-Wooldridge that provided the “boots on the ground” to bring this vision to reality. Ramo-Wooldridge later merged with Thompson Products to form TRW (Thompson Ramo Wooldridge), now part of Northrop Grumman.

ISA’s 1992 monograph, The Computer Control Pioneers: A History of the Innovators and their Work by Ted Williams and Tom Stout details this rich history. ISA recognizes with gratitude the important role that Ramo played in the origin of our field.

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