• Member Feature:
    Q & A with Bill Hollifield

    Bill Hollifield is the Principal Alarm Management and HMI Consultant at PAS, which develops solutions in systems integrity, alarm optimization, and control performance for the process industries. In his position, Hollifield is responsible for the PAS work processes, intellectual property and software product directions in the areas of both alarm management and high performance HMI (Human-Machine Interface).

    He is a member of the ISA-18.2 Alarm Management committee, the American Petroleum Institute’s API RP-1167 Alarm Management Recommended Practice committee, the ISA SP101 HMI committee, and the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association (EEMUA) Industry Review Group.

    In total, Hollifield possesses nearly 30 years of experience in engineering, production, control systems, and automation, and has co-authored numerous books focusing on alarm management and HMI.

    Q. Please give us a brief introduction of yourself, your educational background, and your current place in the industry.

    A. I graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering (BSME) from Louisiana Tech in 1975. I received a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the University of Houston through night classes, and while I was employed, a few years later. My engineering career consisted of a typical path through an engineering department and working in capital project management and then plant operations and management. In the 1990s, I got involved with conversion projects, moving from ancient pneumatic control systems to the modern DCS systems. I began giving an occasional technical presentation or paper on some of the relevant topics at engineering symposiums.

    After a highly favorable corporate buyout and early retirement package in 2003, I went to work for PAS, a control engineering company specializing in solving many DCS-related problems and improving operator effectiveness.

    In 11 years at PAS, I’ve traveled worldwide working on alarm management and process control HMI improvements. This experience has been very enlightening, to see that the problems we have are the same all over the world.

    Q. You are being made a Fellow at the ISA’s Honors &Awards Gala in November. What achievements in your career have contributed to helping you reach this distinguished level?

    A. I recall work on the ISA-18.2 Alarm Management standard beginning in 2003, and I joined ISA and the committee at that time. This was my first exposure to standards development. It can be a frustrating but also rewarding process, because standards have immense impact on the direction of an industry sector-affecting vendors, end users, and regulators. It is both an honor and a significant responsibility to work on a standard, and it is a task to be taken very seriously. So I worked on ISA-18.2, then all 7 Technical Reports associated with that standard, as well as ISA-101 on HMI (soon to be released.)

    No one could have been more surprised than I was when I was notified about becoming an ISA Fellow. That is a recognition and honor that this Louisiana boy never expected!

    Q. When did you decide to become an author, and how has your writing evolved with your career?

    A. My first published article was for Plant Engineering magazine, way back in 1985, and it focused on some of the work we had been conducting at the plant where I was employed. The controversial topic was the use of those suspicious and new “personal computers” by plant engineers to directly create professional-looking P&IDs, loop drawings, and the like, instead of having to develop a rough pencil sketch and cycling back and forth with the dedicated drafting department. This was at a time that personal computers (PCs) were thought suitable only for secretaries or for developing letters and had no business on a professional engineer’s desk - and certainly not a manager’s desk.  However, many of us younger engineers thought otherwise.

    I occasionally assumed duties that included instruction and writing, which I enjoyed. In 2005, we at PAS decided to write The Alarm Management Handbook, a comprehensive and detailed book on the nature and solution of the well-known problem. Since we have all read many excruciatingly boring engineering texts, we decided instead to write a book that was informative but also a good read. We were amazed at the positive response, and ISA soon published and resold a version of that book.

    We followed it up in 2008 with a book that was controversial at the outset - The High Performance HMI Handbook. Today, the book is one of the hottest mainstream titles in control engineering, and ISA resells that book directly. We then published a second edition of The Alarm Management Handbook and will soon do the same for the HMI book. During this time, we also began giving technical presentations on these topics at various ISA and other industry-related technical meetings, along with authoring occasional magazine articles. As an example, below is a link to an InTech article I wrote. If you are interested, you can contact me directly for a more detailed white paper on the topic.

    View article in
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    In that time period we also co-wrote the Electric Power Research institute’s Guideline on Alarm Management. In addition, I was recently asked to write a chapter on HMI for the next edition of ISA’s Automation Book of Knowledge. These are exciting times for me!  

    Writing is one of the best ways to “give back” to a profession that has been so beneficial to us personally. You cannot have an engineering career without encountering or solving something that would be a benefit to others. The trick is to take that next big step to write it up and then share it. It gets easier the more you do it, so dive in!

    Q. What do you like to do with your free time?

    A. I’m a private pilot and I built my own airplane - a  Van’s RV-12. That was a lot of fun and I enjoy going to various fly-ins, and I’m learning formation flying. I also do some woodworking. It’s important to have fresh, new challenges!

    Q. Do you have any advice to students and young professionals in the field?

    A. Once you get out of school, your success in this field will have less to do with your grade point average and more to do with your problem solving and communication abilities. One of the most important skills you can attain will be to learn to communicate effectively - in writing, in person, and in front of groups. This is not a strong point for many of us engineers! For more very practical advice, see this 2013 article that was published in InTech . https://www.isa.org/templates/news-detail.aspx?id=125978  After writing it, I received a lot of very constructive feedback. It appears that, in many cases, taking communications-related, non-technical electives may be more imortant to an engineer’s career than taking three years of calculus!