#pAutomator: Peter Martin, Schneider Electric

This time, we have Peter Martin, Vice President & Fellow of Schneider Electric (Boston, USA), our next #pAutomator. Martin holds multiple patents pending in the areas of real-time business measurement and control. He was recognized by Fortune as a Hero of US Manufacturing, Intech as one of the Fifty Most Influential Innovators in Control, by Control as a member of the Automation Hall of Fame and received ISA’s Life Achievement Award.  Excerpts from the interview are below…

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You were recently inducted into the Measurement, Control & Automation (MCAA) Hall of Fame. Looking back, how do you describe your journey and success?

It was an honor to be inducted into the MCAA Hall of Fame. Looking back over my career, there were several key attributes to my journey that contributed to the success I enjoyed. I came into industrial automation and The Foxboro Company as a mathematician who understood computer science, but I was not an engineer. I found that mathematicians think differently than engineers. Not better, just differently. Since most professionals with whom I worked were engineers, I found I could provide different perspectives. This often proved to be helpful in moving causes forward.

image of #pAutomator: Peter Martin
#pAutomator: Peter Martin

Also, working at Foxboro provided me with close access to some of the best control engineers in the industry. I realized early on that this was an exceptional resource. I capitalized on it to the best of my ability. The focus in industry shifted from control engineering to digital automation platforms. As such, I felt well-grounded in real-time controls. The automation function that adds value to industrial plants is control.

Automation platforms are the delivery vehicles for controls. Over the past 40 years I watched industrial organizations shift their focus from control to the automation platforms because the digital technologies were so interesting and complex. I learned that the key to improving business value rests in the application of real-time control.  

I believe strongly in lifetime learning. The industrial automation industry is continually changing. It is impossible to keep up with the changes and to understand their impact without being a lifetime learner. I believe this is an important attribute for success for any professional in industry.

Finally, I learned early in my career to surround myself with excellent professional who understand key technologies and industrial domains much better than I. I found these professionals continually pushed me to be better at what I did. I also found that they could help me drive to high-value solutions much more effectively than I could on my own.

What are you most passionate about regarding your job? Could you share any major milestones you achieved in your career?

I believe my most passionate focus has been to show that effective industrial and control engineering delivered through industrial automation may be the most valuable investment any industrial company can make. As I concentrated on this, I decided to pursue a PhD in industrial engineering focused on measuring and improving operational profitability through automation and control.

First, I helped invent a methodology for developing real-time strategic performance measures for industrial operations that one could drive from sensor-based data. These dynamic performance measures helped align strategic objectives and action plans all the way from industrial executive right down to front-line operators. Many clients realized significant value improvement using these dynamic performance measurement systems. I published a couple of related books and numerous technical papers which helped to promote this approach.

I then realized that the gap between business systems and control systems needed to be closed. As such, I helped invent innovative ways of measuring cost accounting in real-time, right down to the value and cost points in industrial processes, and use these real-time accounting measures to provide real-time operational profitability controls. These real-time profitability controls contributed significantly to bottom-line improvements of industrial companies in which they were deployed.

image of #pAutomator: Peter Martin
#pAutomator: Peter Martin

Finally, I worked on extending the scope of real-time control from process control for operational efficiency improvements to include reliability risk, safety risk, environmental risk, and profitability control.

I believe the industry has only begun to realize how much value it could generate by applying effective real-time control. Extended control can be used to develop autonomous, self-optimizing industrial assets across industrial operations.

How do you contextualize the transformation of process controls? Apart from increasing operational efficiency, how has the industry evolved in a holistic view?

For the most part of the last century, process control was applied to increase the operational efficiency of industrial assets and processes. As control improved, the assets were pushed harder and harder until they started to encroach upon critical safety threshold limits.

The introduction of real-time safety risk control helped respond to potential safety incidents by initially shutting down operations. As experience with safety control systems increased, less drastic control responses, such as slowing processes or only shutting off effected plant sections, resulted in improved operational profitability.

Additionally, as process control drove industrial assets harder, asset reliability started to decline. This led to innovative approaches to asset reliability risk control. These approaches measure reliability risk in real-time and appropriate control responses developed. This enabled the more profitable operation of industrial assets and helped advance safety risk measurement because asset safety risk is a function of asset reliability risk, incorporating an additional safety consequence factor.

This enabled a new perspective on real-time control of environmental risk, because from an asset perspective, safety risk measurement includes a consequence factor involving the risk within the facility and environmental risk includes a consequence factor for risk outside.

Finally, control was extended to operational profitability with the addition of the real-time accounting factors previously mentioned. One can think of real-time profitability control as the primary control loop for a cascade control strategy. In this, profitability cascades to operational efficiency. The other control domains of reliability risk, safety risk and environmental risk actually behave as constraint function to the profitability control loop, enabling measurable real-time operational profitability improvement – safely.

Today, IoT is driving new approaches to automation system design. In your opinion, what role does IT play in bringing significant advances to the industrial automation sector?

I believe the convergence between IT and OT that has been discussed within the context of IIoT really involves moving critical business functionality into the OT domain in the automation systems. The speed of industrial businesses has continually increased through the introduction of IIoT approaches. As such, some functions, such as operational profitability measurement and improvement, traditionally considered IT functions, must shift into the automation domain to be effectively addressed. This involves a collapsing of the traditional two-level IT-OT technical model into a single functional model that will serve to drive more business value.

Factory owners want their equipment to deliver the highest output with the minimum production costs. At the same time, ensuring process improvements and financial flexibility is also vital to implement optimal strategies. What is your take on this?

image of #pAutomator: Peter Martin
#pAutomator: Peter Martin

I believe plant owners want their plants to provide the best profit-impact for their overall businesses. This may or may not involve maximizing production output, depending on the market situation. What they would really like is a system that continually controls their operational profitability.

A system that would maximize profitability while ensuring safe and secure operations. I believe this is the future of industrial automation. I also believe we can implement most of these requirements with today’s technologies.

What are the parameters you consider while choosing an automation solution to ensure a successful project?

Over the last 50 years, automation systems were mostly selected based on technology features and costs. I believe this has resulted in a significant reduction in the business value, which could have been prevented through these solutions. The primary focus in selecting an automation solution is the improved operational profitability the solution can safely offer. Any other attribute should be consider supporting attributes for this ultimate objective.

In your opinion, what will be the driving force to attract young engineers to this industry? What is your advice for the next generation of engineers?

I believe there are attributes of the younger generation that are different than those of my generation that are extremely important and positive. For example, millennials tend to be altruistic in their professional perspectives. They want to solve the big problems of the world. No profession can help solve the great problems the world faces more than a career in industrial automation and control.

Controls help provide energy throughout the world, provide clean water, healthy food, housing and material goods. Thus, industrial automation could naturally attract millennials. Additionally, millennials tend to be much better at using high-technology than my generation.

Industrial automation utilizes the highest levels of technology to solve the world’s biggest issues. This should be very attractive to next-generation engineers.

My advice to next-generation engineers would be the following. If you want to make a difference and use the latest technologies to do so, consider a career in industrial automation.

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