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26 Automation Trailblazers Who Changed the World

Titans of Automation 

The International Society of Automation (ISA) explores the lives and careers of some of those who have made the biggest impact on the world of automation since the organization was founded in 1945.

#1 and #2: W. Brittain and W. Schockley, Transistor Inventors  

The device that changed everyone's life in industrialized society—including the process control industry—was the transistor, invented in 1947 by John Bardeen, Walter Brittain, and William Schockley of Bell Laboratories.  Arguably the most important invention of this century, the transistor opened the electronics age, driving out many pneumatic or air-based controllers of the 1920s and '30s. The transistor contained three electrodes and could amplify or vary currents or voltages between two of the electrodes in response to the voltages or currents imposed on the third electrode. 

#3: Federico Faggin, Microprocessor Innovator 

Microprocessors made industrial controllers of all types practical, and Federico Faggin designed the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004, in 1971. He led the 4004 (MCS-4) project and the design group during the first five years of Intel’s microprocessor effort. After the 4004, he led development of the Intel 8008 and 8080. Later he cofounded Zilog, the first company solely dedicated to microprocessors, and led the development of the Zilog Z80 (used extensively in controllers) and Z8 processors. The influence of microprocessors continues; they are embedded in sensors, actuators, and other end devices. Microprocessors are fueling the implementation of Industry 4.0, industrial digitalization, and IIoT. In 2010, Faggin received the 2009 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor the U.S. confers for achievements related to technological progress.

#4: Richard Rimbach, ISA Founder and First Secretary 

ISA was officially born as the Instrument Society of America on 28 April 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pa., U.S. It was the brainchild of Richard Rimbach of the Instruments Publishing Company and grew out of the desire of 18 local instrument societies to form a national organization. Rimbach graduated from MIT with an engineering degree and was the first executive secretary of the Instrument Society of America. Industrial instruments, which became widely used during World War II, continued to play an ever-greater role in the expansion of technology after the war. See www.isa.org/about-isa/history-of-isa

old-isa-logoISAs original logo

#5: Albert F. Sperry, ISA Founder and First President  

Albert F. Sperry, chairman of Panelit Corporation, became ISA’s first president in 1946. The same year, the Society held its first conference and exhibit in Pittsburgh. The first standard, RP 5.1, Instrument Flow Plan Symbols, followed in 1949, and the first journal, which eventually became InTech, was published in 1954. Representatives from regional societies first gathered in New York on 2 December 1944. ISA was officially founded on 28 April 1945, with 15 local instrument societies and about 1,000 members. Sperry was the first president; Karl Kayan, a professor at Columbia University, was vice president; Clark E. Fry of Westinghouse was treasurer; and Richard Rimbach of Instruments Publishing Co. was secretary.

#6: Glenn F. Harvey  

ISA executive director for 32 years, Glenn F. Harvey oversaw ISA's direction and saw the focus shift from valves and other electrical, mechanical, and pneumatic instruments to microprocessors and PCs to a solutions-based, software-driven discipline. Under his leadership, ISA grew from a few thousand members to a peak of more than 60,000 members during the 1990s. 

#7 and #8: A.T. James and A.J.P. Martin, Gas-Liquid Chromatograph

In 1952, A.T. James and Archer John Porter Martin developed the process of gas-liquid chromatography, a technique for separating and analyzing a mixture, for which they later received the Nobel Prize. This technique dramatically improved the speed, accuracy, and sensitivity of previous chromatographic procedures. By 1956, a company called Beckman Instruments was marketing the first gas chromatograph.

#9: Dick (Richard) Morley, Father of the PLC  

Dick Morley is considered the father of the programmable logic controller (PLC), which was conceived by his team at Bedford Associates. Morley also supported ISA and encouraged young automation professionals to join.

Morley and his team of engineers developed a solid-state, sequential logic solver designed for factory automation and continuous processing applications: the first practical programmable logic controller called the Modicon 084. The company demonstrated the Modicon 084 to General Motor’s Hydramatic Division in 1969 and delivered the first commercial unit to GM in 1970 to control metal cutting, hole drilling, material handling, assembly, and testing for the Hydramatic Model 400 automatic transmission. The new system replaced the large electromagnetic relay panels that GM previously used to identify where problems had occurred.

The PLC allowed those in the control industry to program the system, which was not possible with electromagnetic relay panels.

#10: Karl Åström, Father of Adaptive Control 

Karl Johan Åström is a Swedish control theorist who made contributions to control theory and control engineering, computer control, and adaptive control. In 1965, he described a general framework of Markov decision processes (MDPs) with incomplete information, which led to the notion of a partially observable Markov decision process (POMDP). A POMDP models an agent decision process in which it is assumed that the system dynamics are determined by an MDP, but the agent cannot directly observe the underlying state. Instead, it must maintain a probability distribution over the set of possible states, based on a set of observations and observation probabilities, and the underlying MDP. The POMDP framework is general enough to model a variety of real-world sequential decision processes. Applications include robot navigation problems, machine maintenance, and general planning under uncertainty. Leslie P. Kaelbling and Michael L. Littman adapted it for problems in artificial intelligence and automated planning.

#11 and #12: Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Microsoft Founders 

Microsoft Corporation, founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on 4 April 1975, has and continues to have a significant impact on accelerating the creation and application of valuable industrial control and automation software. Microsoft Windows and server offerings in particular are a platform for a wide range of innovative, creative, and valuable industrial applications. More continue to be developed by industrial control and automation subject-matter experts.

#13: Larry Evans, Pioneer in Process Modeling 

Larry Evans started as an MIT chemical engineering professor and principal investigator of the ASPEN Project, a major research and development effort. The purpose of the project was to develop a “third-generation” process modeling and simulation system that could be used to evaluate proposed synthetic fuel processes both technically and economically.

When the project was completed in 1981, Evans, along with seven key members of the project staff, founded Aspen Technology, Inc. (AspenTech) to license the technology from MIT and to further develop, support, and commercialize it. As CEO at AspenTech, Evans greatly expanded the breadth and depth of the technology over the ensuing years and brought on board a wide range of complementary products. The company grew from a 10-person startup to a public company.

#14: Dennis Morin, Founder of Wonderware 

Dennis Morin founded Wonderware in 1987. His vision of Microsoft Windows–based HMI was inspired by an early 1980s video game that allowed players to digitally construct a pinball game. He figured operators monitoring factory operations would be more productive with a machine that was fun and easy to use. Wonderware marked the beginning of the Microsoft industrial software revolution that opened the industrial and process control systems architectures to third-party developers. In 2003, InTech magazine listed Dennis Morin as one of the 50 most influential innovators in the history of industrial automation, noting Morin “bet the company” on Microsoft’s Windows software and started a major transition from dedicated, hardware-based process control to Windows-based open technology.

In one of the great rags-to-riches entrepreneurial stories of the 1980s, Morin was 40 years old when he was terminated by Triconex and started Wonderware. He drove a taxi in Boston before coming to California in the 1970s. He told his idea to a young technology wizard, Phil Huber, who joined him in forming Wonderware.

#15: Patrick Kennedy, Father of Plant Historians 

Patrick Kennedy, considered the father of plant historians, founded Oil Systems, Inc. (now OSIsoft), and the Plant Information System became the first OSIsoft product that was widely deployed throughout industry. Historians have become an important tool in a range of industrial manufacturing and process control applications to improve productivity, efficiency, and profits. Historian information is used by automation engineers, operations, and businesspeople for many types of applications. Standing the test of time and proving continuing value, historians are now being deployed embedded in controllers and on cloud servers.

Kennedy earned a BS and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Kansas. A registered professional engineer in control systems engineering, he holds a patent on a catalytic reformer control system.

#16: Tom Fisher, Champion of ISA88 

Tom Fisher contributed to and was a champion of ISA88 and was World Batch Forum (WBF) chairman. Fisher was a founder of the ISA SP88 committee, which formulated the batch manufacturing standards used worldwide. Fisher joined Lubrizol in 1967 as a process engineer and rose through the ranks during his long career to become Lubrizol’s operations technology manager. He worked previously for DuPont and NASA. He also was ISA’s publications VP and a member of the Process Control Safety subcommittee of the Center for Chemical Process Safety. He led the IEC’s SC65A Working Group for batch control. Fisher educated a generation of batch process engineers and wrote several books on subjects including safety interlock systems, control design, and control applications (including a major text on batch control systems). Fisher was elected chairman of WBF in 1999.

#17: Lynn Craig, Champion of ISA88 

Lynn Craig was deeply involved in ISA88, World Batch Forum, and ISA95. Craig attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville and was manager of process control and automation at Rohm & Haas company for more than 30 years. Craig was an originator and voting member of the ANSI/ISA SP95 standards committee (17 years), past chairman and voting member of the ANSI/ISA SP88 Batch Control committee (17 years), and first elected chairman of the WBF.

#18: Dennis Brandl, Champion of ISA95 

Dennis Brandl, BR&L Consulting, wrote most of ISA95, as well as other important industry standards. Brandl is an active member of the ISA95 Enterprise/Control System Integration committee, coauthor of the MESA B2MML standards, a member of the ISA99 Industrial Cybersecurity standards committee, the former chairman of the ISA88 Batch System Control committee, and a contributor to the OPC Foundation and IEC 62541 standards. He specializes in helping companies use manufacturing IT to improve applications such as device connectivity, business-to-manufacturing integration, manufacturing execution systems, batch control, general and site recipe implementations, and automation system cybersecurity. He has been involved in automation system design and implementations, including Apollo and space shuttle test systems for Rockwell.

#19: Ed Hurd, Helped Birth Commercial DCS 

Ed Hurd is a longtime Honeywell veteran who was a major driver of the Honeywell 2000, introduced in 1975—which marked the beginning of commercial distributed control systems (DCS).  At the 1976 ISA show in Houston’s Astrodome, Honeywell formally unveiled the TDC-2000, the first system to use microprocessors to perform direct digital control of processes as an integrated part of the system. This distributed architecture was revolutionary with digital communication between distributed controllers, workstations, and other computing elements. Hurd served as president of Industrial Control from 1993 to 1995 and, before that, was vice president and general manager of Honeywell’s Industrial Automation and Control Group. He won a Sweat Award in 1967 for circuitry design and was the design architect for an assignment called Project 72. After about two years, the group synthesized a next-generation control system. The project led to the TDC 2000, a DCS that took the industrial automation and control group from $5 million to $500 million in five years.

#20: Bill Loew, Lab Director for the IBM PC 

IBM’s personal computer (IBM 5150) was introduced in August 1981, one year after corporate executives gave the go-ahead to Bill Lowe, the lab director in the company’s Boca Raton, Fla., facilities. Non-IBM personal computers were available as early as the mid-1970s, but the IBM PC launch legitimized use of this class of computers in business, scientific, and industrial applications. Lowe established a task force that developed the proposal for the first IBM PC, fighting the idea that things could not be done quickly at IBM. One analyst was quoted as saying that “IBM bringing out a personal computer would be like teaching an elephant to tap dance.” The group worked with a little-known company, Microsoft, for the operating system, and the team beat the deadline, finishing the IBM personal computer by 1 April 1981.

#21: John Berra, Communication Protocol Impresario   

John Berra, the president of Emerson Process Management and Emerson executive vice president, received ISA’s “Life Achievement Award” at ISA 2002 in recognition of long-term dedication and contributions to the instrumentation, systems, and automation community. As of 2001, only seven people had received the honor, which was first given in 1981. Berra, who began his career as an engineer at Monsanto Co., played a major role in the development of three major manufacturing communications protocols: HART, Foundation Fieldbus, and OPC.

#22: Charlie Cutler, Redefined APC  

Charles R. Cutler, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, invented and commercialized a highly successful multivariable controller that redefined the term advanced process control (APC). In 1984, he founded DMC Corporation, and in 1999, he founded a second company called the Cutler Technology Corporation. Cutler conceived control engineering applications that have brought a competitive edge to the current oil and gas industry, namely Dynamic Matrix Control (DMC) and real-time optimization (RTO). He was honored with a membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 2000 for his contributions to a new class of advanced process control technology. Cutler graduated as a chemical engineer from Lamar University in 1961 and went to work for Shell Oil Co., where he would conceive and implement the concept of a DMC algorithm, saving the petrochemical industry millions of dollars.

#23: Odo Struger, Named the PLC  

Odo Struger of Allen-Bradley is credited with creating the acronym PLC (programmable logic controller). Struger, who earned a PhD from the Vienna University of Technology, also developed PLC application software during his nearly 40-year career at Allen-Bradley/Rockwell. He played a leadership role in developing National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 1131-3 PLC programming language standards. After moving from Austria to the U.S. in the 1950s, he became an engineer at Allen-Bradley in 1958, retiring in 1997 as Rockwell Automation’s vice president of technology.

#24: Mike Marlowe, U.S. Federal Government Liaison  for ISA

Mike Marlowe’s relationships and U.S. government contacts were instrumental to ISA gaining access to the necessary agencies and legislators to allow a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor on workforce development and the Automation Competency Model (ACM). Additionally, Marlowe worked to get the ISA99 standard adopted by the U.S. government as a foundational standard in the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure. Marlowe’s efforts were significant in ISA99/IEC 62443 becoming integral components of the United States Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014, the federal government’s plans to combat cyberattacks.

#25: Peter G. Martin, Automation Renaissance Man 

Peter G. Martin has been an industry contributor, innovator, author, and champion of industrial control and automation for more than 40 years. Martin was named one of the “50 Most Influential Innovators of All Time” by ISA. In 2009, he received the ISA Life Achievement Award, recognizing his work in integrating financial and production measures that improve the profitability and performance of industrial process plants. Martin, who began his process control career at Foxboro, holds multiple patents, including patents for real-time activity-based costing, closed-loop business control, and asset and resource modeling. He has authored or coauthored three books: Bottom Line AutomationDynamic Performance Management: The Pathway to World-Class Manufacturing; and Automation Made Easy: Everything You Wanted to Know About Automation – and Need to Ask.

#26: Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet 

Vint Cerf, widely known as a “Father of the Internet,” is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. In December 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the U.S. National Medal of Technology to Cerf and his colleague Robert E. Kahn. In 2005, President George Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Cerf began his work at the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), playing a key role in leading the development of Internet and Internet-related data packet and security technologies. Since 2005, he has served as vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. From 2000–2007, he served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization he helped form. Cerf was a founding president of the Internet Society from 1992–1995, and in 1999 served a term as chairman of the board.


A version of this article was published in September/October 2020 InTech—the ISA 75th Anniversary Special Edition.

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Bill Lydon
Bill Lydon
Lydon has been active in manufacturing automation for more than 25 years. He started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers and process control technology. In addition to experience at various large companies, he cofounded and was president of a venture-capital-funded industrial automation software company. Lydon believes the success factors in manufacturing are changing, making it imperative to apply automation as a strategic tool to compete.

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