August 2008

Automation Founders Circle

EDITOR'S NOTE: ISA continues its tradition of honoring leaders throughout the automation industry by presenting the Automation Founders Circle awards. This year's recipients are Hans Baumann and Margaret Walker with the ISA Honorary Member award, the highest honor bestowed by the society; Tom Thomas with the Arnold O. Beckman Founder Award; Dr. Robert Moore with the Albert F. Sperry Founder Award; and F. Gregway Shinskey with ISA's 2008 Life Achievement Award. Wake Forest, N.C.-based freelance writer Bob Felton wrote all five of the profiles.

Innovating, educating, writing, earn Life Achievement Award for Greg Shinskey

"You have to know the process and apply the mathematical model to the process." -Shinskey

Greg Shinskey likes to explain his approach to problem-solving with a quote from Albert Einstein: "Keep it as simple as possible-but no simpler."

As a young chemical engineer at The Foxboro Company in the early 1960s, the Notre Dame (BSEE, '52) graduate revolutionized process control with an insight considered commonplace today: Standard hardware configurations often robbed processes of efficiency with a one-size-fits-all approach; control, Shinskey reasoned, ought to be process-centric.  His chemical engineering background better prepared him for the challenging analyses than a traditional mechanical or electrical engineering degree might have but, even so, he said, "It took me several years to do this."

When his approach to control coupled with his love of teaching, the result was far-reaching.  "Prior to Mr. Shinskey's publications, the dominant control application literature was from academia and the control vendors were limited to supplying control system hardware and basic configuration. Mr. Shinskey's work and publications helped to transform the automation companies to provide complete automation solutions for a wide range of petrochemical, industrial, and power applications," said Donald E. Labbe, an ISA Fellow.

That career-long passion to his craft resulted in Shinskey garnering ISA's 2008 Life Achievement Award. Established "to recognize individuals with a history of sustained dedication to the instrumentation, systems, and automation community," ISA's Life Achievement Award is issued at the discretion of the Society. Shinskey is honored for "a 48-year career of innovation in process control technology through invention, publication, teaching and application of control theory."


Though much has changed since Shinskey first began considering how to improve processes, there is much that has not.  As he wrote in a 2001 paper for the American Chemical Society, Process Control: As Taught vs. as Practiced: "After 47 years of industrial experience and regular reviews of technical papers submitted to this and other journals, the author has discovered a number of common threads in papers written by academics that are at odds with industrial practice in process control. These indicators of the university-industry gap are so consistent over the years as to indicate that the gap is not closing."

When he needed special-purpose equipment, he designed and assembled it himself, doing his own drafting.  He holds 17 U.S. patents.


As Shinskey worked out the process mathematical models and strove for a deeper understanding of what is occurring at the lowest level, he shared what he learned, teaching Foxboro's Control System Engineering course to Foxboro staff and customers for many years.  Additionally, he taught the course and gave seminars in dozens of countries throughout the world.  "He was very much interested in sharing know-how and knowledge, and Greg was an excellent engineer and teacher," recalled Richard Rys, a long-time colleague in Foxboro's Department 835, the advanced controls group. Carroll Ryskamp, another Foxboro colleague, added, "He was very good at giving lectures, and knew his material thoroughly."

Lewis Gordon, the Principal Application Engineer for Invensys Process Systems, describes his association with Shinskey in words echoed in virtually every letter received by ISA in support of his selection for the Lifetime Achievement Award: "Greg was always a communicator and a teacher. Along with many other control engineers, it was my pleasure to learn directly from him through his seminars, his books, and his long, long list of published articles. Further, Greg's door was always open for personal questions, and his patient explanations were clear, complete, and practical in a way that made them useful and understandable to an entire generation of control engineers."


In addition to teaching, Shinskey has published more than 100 articles and referred technical papers. He further advanced the spread of his know-how by writing seven books, including three books published by ISA.  Four of his books have been translated into multiple languages and are now used through the world.  He is a contributing author to nine widely-used handbooks and, "if it's in a book or an article, then it's been tested in the real world," said A.J. Thornton, Principal Process Control Engineer for Australia's MIPAC.

His writing was not narrowly confined to technical subjects, though.  In the 1970s, he wrote a weekly column for his local newspaper as well, talking up conservation topics.  And though he is now semi-retired, he follows industry and business developments and continues teaching, writing a letter to InTech that commented on a Certification Review question that published this past April.


His transformations of process control and prolific written output have won worldwide recognition.  From ISA he has received the Applications Award (1977) for advances in pH controls, the Education Award (1983) for his unending efforts to disseminate knowledge, the Founder's Award (1988) in recognition of his revolutionary approach to process control, Fellow (1990), and the R.N. Pond Award (2003) for best paper of the year.  In 1992, following the 1990 publication by ISA of Simulating Process Control Loops Using BASIC, he received the Computing Practice Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 

He is also the recipient of the Benjamin H. Bristol Fellowship, awarded by The Foxboro Company (1982), Sir Harold Hartley Medal, IMC, U.K. (1995), the Nordic Process Control Award (1998), the Control Engineering Practice Award, AACC (2000), and was inducted into the Process Automation Hall of Fame by Control magazine in 2001.