Automation expert bigs up ISA at IICA conference

Last month I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Ronald Dieck that was organised by IICA’s Sydney branch. There was a goodly crowd; some perhaps attracted by the theme “10 Biggest Disasters and 5 Greatest Successes/Proudest Moments of the ISA”.

Founded in 1945, the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA) develops standards; certifies industry professionals; provides education and training; publishes books and technical articles; and hosts conferences and exhibitions for automation professionals.

The so called disasters weren’t exploding pipes spewing vile fluids or automation systems gone berserk; rather a gentle look at some of ISA’s strategies that did not go to plan. For instance, ISA initially gave away the standards free and this reduced their desirability. Currently, there’s a fee attached although members can view them for free online. A "disaster"? Hmmm.

Perhaps, one real disaster is the impact of the industry’s elimination, ten years back, of the term ‘instrumentation engineering’ to brand its professionals and divisions. This caused ISA membership to plummet to the current 23,000 from a high of 40,000 in 1999.

The ISA has a reciprocal membership arrangement with the IICA. In Australia, IICA has offered ISA Training courses in Flow Measurement, Instrumentation Diagrams & Symbols, Industrial Process Measurement & Control and Safety Instrumented Systems.

Dieck (pictured above) is an acknowledged expert in the area of measurement uncertainty and the audience did get into an animated discussion with him on this subject. Dieck believes that no test data should be considered without knowing their uncertainty. His book Measurement Uncertainty is now in its fourth edition and is said to be one of the most authoritative texts in its field.

Although it is a critical aspect of process control set up, measurement uncertainty is a difficult concept to grasp. One of the IICA members (who shall remain nameless) mentioned to me that he’s read Dieck’s book several times and over several years but is yet to get his head around the practical application of measurement uncertainty in his operation. It’s no reflection on the author but an indication of the topic’s complexity.

Dieck served as President of the Instrumentation Systems and Automation Society in 1999 and conducts a three-day course covering the concepts and applications of Measurement Uncertainty. As he explains: “Every measurement includes error. This course provides an objective methodology for determining how much in error a measurement might be.”