Under Control


The nightmare begins on Prytannia Street, in New Orleans, where I'd gone to attend the Instrument Society of America (ISA) conversion, the biggest U.S. show on process instrumentation and control. The problem was that instead of being booked into a businessman's hotel, I'd somehow ended up in a bed and breakfast! Therefore, no data port, no CNN, and no turbocharged air-conditioning; I had to retire without my usual e-mail fix.

Sleep finally comes, but slumber is disturbed. I dream I'm walking the second floor - the aisles extended endlessly. As I walk the walk, each and every product consist of a large sign and every booth person pitches their product: "Better, cheaper, faster." Each and every product consists of a large sign and a color monitor, and numerous attendees stand stunned and awestruck before the array of icons displayed on thousands of screens. Soon, the body types, appeal, and even hair pieces of the booth attendants begin to seem identical. I walk faster and faster. There seems no way out - and I need a way out! But suddenly I'm awake again and trying to find my way in the dark...Drinking too much coffee late at night will get you every time.

My nightmare did not, in fact, come true. ISA does an excellent job of managing one of the largest industrial conferences. We experienced no problems, despite the threat of a hurricane.

At the show I noticed a lot of:

One of my appointed tasks at the show was to present the Modicon Rising Star Award on behalf of the industrial Computing society. The recipient of this award must be less than 35-years old. In an era in which so many of those with engineering backgrounds go for MBAs and move to marketing or management , it's nice to give recognition to those who stick to the technology side. Make the move to marketing and you get only money, but stick with engineering and you get plaques.

This year's award went to William Staib, designer of the Intelligent Arc Furnace (IAF) Regulator, a neural-network-based electrode positioning system for electric arc furnaces. The production IAF system, released in September 1992, uses the pattern recognition abilities of neural networks to predict and correct for changes in furnace operation. Continuously adopting its control strategy, the IAF is said to save several million dollars a year on typical installation by increasing productivity by over twelve percent and by reducing power consumption and electrode wear.

To control an arc furnace is to control a ten to 60 megawatt lightning storm. Because the IAF is among the first proven, large-scale industrial neural network applications, the system has been heralded by both the steel industry and by the neural-network research community. Staib, who graduated with an M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in June 1993, is presently developing neural-network control applications for other industries. We can only hope that Staib continues to contributes to technology development.

Staib did get a $1,000 check in addition to his plaque.

As one ages, one becomes the recipient of more and more awards. The work one does over a lifetime adds up. If you've chosen your parents well and manage to outlive your peers

In the limit, we all are the life integral of our efforts. We can only measure our contribution after we leave the play. The integral becomes a constant over time, and the first derivative goes to zero after death. The Modicon Rising Star Award is based upon the speedometer and not the odometer. Since youth must be recognized, more attention needs to be focused upon the speed of the journey and less upon the miles traveled.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine November 1995 Page 18

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