Developing Next-Gen Process Control Leaders

Anyone involved in process control knows the steep learning curve from what is taught in the universities to what is required to safely, reliably and efficiently control an industrial process. Many of the world’s foremost experts steeped in this knowledge have retired or are quickly approaching retirement age.

Gregory K. McMillan


Several years ago, Process Automation Hall of Fame member and ISA Lifetime Achievement award winner, Greg McMillan, recognized the need to transfer this knowledge more directly than he could through the vast number of books, blog posts (here, here and here), webinars, and probably many more ways!

Greg and Hunter Vegas teamed up to start the ISA Mentor Program in 2011. It:

ISA Mentor Program…enables young professionals to access the wisdom and expertise of seasoned ISA members, and offers veteran ISA professionals the chance to share their wisdom and make a difference in someone’s career. ISA’s Mentor Program is an online program, so there are no meetings to attend and there is no travel. ISA Members from all over the world can participate, and the relationship can develop and progress at the convenience of the mentor and protégé.

Through the magic of Google, I found this 2013 article, Enabling new automation engineers—Draw on the experience of others in the ISA Mentor Program. It is a Q&A with some of the original protégés about some of the things they’ve learned and overall impressions.

What prompted this post is that I’m lucky enough to be on the email distribution between the mentors and protégés. Some of the things I see I’ll share through LinkedIn and Twitter to try to share this knowledge transfer more broadly. I’ll share an example in this post.

Greg sent around an email showing some updates/fixes he’s made in some of his books. Here’s one of the illustrations he updated showing a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) block with a positive feedback implementation of integral mode:

pid-integral-mode-positive-feedback

This picture can be intimidating for those not steeped in the knowledge of process control. A clear demonstration of the effectiveness of the ISA Mentor Program was when I saw a reply to this email with a question from one of the protégés:

What is the Smart Preload? The arrow indicates this is bidirectional? Thanks…

Greg responded:

The smart preload is essentially a feedforward summer that can be used when intermittently set to help reach a setpoint sooner as well as dealing with load disturbances. It is added to the PID output but must be consequently subtracted from the external reset feedback that goes into the reset time filter internally in the PID algorithm to prevent positive feedback from the integral mode working on the feedforward signal. You can perhaps better understand this if you realize when the feedforward is perfect, the input and output of the reset time filter should both be zero and the output of the proportional mode is zero as well for zero error suspending positive feedback and thus integral action. The whole deal of the positive feedback implementation of integral action is so powerful but can get you going around in circles.

To me, it’s clear that the next generation of process automation hall of fame members, lifetime achievers and future mentors are building their knowledge and skills.

If you have knowledge to share and want to mentor, or are interested in becoming a protégé, here’s how:

…please contact Susan Colwell, ISA director of publications at [email protected]. You will need to send her your current title and job description, education including any technical training or university courses in process automation and control, the number of years of industry experience and whether you want to be considered as a protégé/protégée (asking questions) or a resource (answering questions).