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Reflecting on ISA History: Don’t Leave Gold Nuggets Behind

It is good to know where we have come from. During my experience in over 50 years in this industry, I have observed that, as we advance in technology, we also often leave some gold nuggets behind. For example, the pneumatic years had some benefits and advancements, but we moved to digital and forgot many of the advantages of the analog world. We lost the art of working with patterns (trends), as the digital world only offered poor solutions.

The electronic technology quickly evolved into computers and the birth of the DCS, which was initially a computerized version of the electronic pneumatic replacement. The DCS rapidly evolved and presented new ways of sharing the information, but now on a larger scale. Unfortunately, without any discipline or human factors, we created new issues that have led to major accidents. We created poor human-machine interface (HMI) designs, overloaded alarms, and incomplete control strategies.

Controls have continued to improve, with new disciplines around alarm management and the high-performance HMI. The evolution will continue, and the technology will expand outside the traditional instrumentation discipline, creating new disciplines, technologies, and organizations.

In the early days it was simpler: Everyone was focused on technology within a narrow bandwidth. Today, this is very different, and it creates new challenges for a Society that has become so diverse and broad in discipline. The questions we face are: What is the next generation of technology? How do we, the International Society of Automation (ISA), continue to support the needs of such a diverse membership?

I think we need to focus on how ISA has and will continue to evolve with the evolution of its members, especially in an IoT world that answers almost any known question; however, this is limited to what is, not what will be. I am very interested in participating in anything we, as ISA, do next.


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

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Ian Nimmo
Ian Nimmo
Ian Nimmo is a 2010 ISA Fellow.

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