Bob Lally – Piezoelectric sensing technology pioneer.

27/03/2018

Molly Bakewell Chamberlin, president, Embassy Global LLC pays touching tribute to an important instrument pioneer and innovator. She acknowledges the help of Jim Lally, retired Chairman of PCB Group in preparing this eulogy.

Bob Lally (1924-2018)

During my earliest days in the sensors industry, at PCB Piezotronics (PCB), I can still remember the excitement which accompanied publication of my first technical article. It was a primer on piezoelectric sensing technology, which ran some 15 years ago in the print edition of Sensors. About a month later, I recall receiving a package at PCB, containing both a copy of my article and a congratulatory letter. The article was covered in a sea of post-it notes, filled with new insights and explanatory diagrams. I recall marveling at the sheer kindness of anyone taking such time and interest in the work. I’d sent an immediate thank you, then received yet another encouraging response.  From that time onward, nearly each time I’d publish an article, another friendly envelope would arrive. I’d look forward to them, and the opportunities for learning and growth they’d offered.

As I’d soon come to know, those envelopes were sent by none other than PCB Founder, Bob Lally, who passed away last month at the age of 93. For me, Bob was my PCB pen pal, who along with his brother, Jim, helped me to develop a real appreciation for piezoelectric sensing technology. They made it fun. I also had the privilege of learning quite a bit about this kind, brilliantly complex and insightful person who was so helpful to me. To the sensors industry, Bob’s technical contributions were legendary. What is less known about Bob, however, were his equally remarkable histories, first as a decorated veteran of WW II; and later, as an innovator in STEM.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Bob entered military service, as part of the United States Army which helped liberate mainland Europe during World War II. His service was recognised with two Bronze Stars for bravery. When the hostilities ended, Bob returned home, and was able to benefit from a special U.S. government program which funded the university education of military veterans and their families. This benefit allowed Bob to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He graduated with high honors, as University co-salutatorian, in 1950. Bob also later continued this commitment to lifelong learning via studies at both Purdue and the State University of New York at Buffalo (NY USA).

Bob’s first engineering job upon graduation was as a guidance and control engineer at Bell Aircraft Corp. (Bell) in Buffalo, (NY USA). This a position in which he would serve for four years. He worked in test flight control systems R&D for experimental aircraft, glide bombs and guided missiles. He also supervised the inertial guidance group. It was from his work at Bell that Bob first learned about the application of piezoelectric sensing technology for the dynamic measurement of physical parameters, such as vibration, pressure, and force. That technology was first developed by Bob’s colleague, Walter P. Kistler, the Swiss-born physicist who had successfully integrated piezoelectric technology into Bell’s rocket guidance and positioning systems.

Original PCB Piezotronics facility in the family home of Jim Lally, ca 1967. Bob Lally, centre background, is operating a DuMont oscilloscope in the Test department.
Jim Lally, left foreground, leads the Sales department.

In 1955, Bob and some of his Bell colleagues decided to form what was the original Kistler Instrument Company. That company sought to further commercialize piezoelectric sensing technologies for an expanded array of applications and markets, beyond the aerospace umbrella. In addition to his role as co-founder, Bob remained at the original Kistler Instrument Company for 11 years, serving as VP of Marketing, while continuing his roles in engineering, production, testing, and sales. Upon learning that the company was being sold to a firm out of Washington State, Bob decided to form PCB Piezotronics. Established in 1967, PCB specialized in the development and application of integrated electronics within piezoelectric sensors for the dynamic measurement of vibration, pressure, force and acceleration. The original PCB facility had rather humble beginnings, with all sales, marketing, R&D and operations running from the basement of Jim Lally’s family home.

IR-100 Award plaque, presented to Bob Lally, 1983.

It was also in this timeframe that Bob became world-renowned for his capability to successfully integrate piezoelectric sensing technology into mechanical devices, setting a new industry standard for test and measurement. He was awarded multiple U.S. patents for these innovations, including the modally-tuned piezoelectric impact hammer, pendulum hammer calibrator, and gravimetric calibrator, all for the modal impact testing of machines and structures. The modally tuned impulse excitation hammer was further recognized with a prestigious IR-100 award, as one of the top 100 industry technical achievements of 1983.

Bob was also renowned for his successful commercialization of a two-wire accelerometer with built-in electronics. That concept was marketed by PCB as integrated circuit piezoelectric, or ICP. Bob’s 1967 paper for the International Society of Automation (ISA), “Application of Integrated Circuits to Piezoelectric Transducers”, was among the first formally published technical explanations of this concept. As Bob had detailed, the application of this technology made the sensors lower cost, easier to use and more compatible with industrial environments. Subsequent widespread industry adoption of these accelerometers created new markets for PCB, such as industrial machinery health monitoring, and formed a major cornerstone for the company’s success. In 2016, PCB was acquired by MTS Systems Corporation and employs more than 1000 worldwide, with piezoelectric sensing technologies still among its core offerings.

Beyond Bob’s many R&D accomplishments, he is known for his invaluable contributions to the establishment of industry standards and best practices, as a member of the technical standards committees of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Society for Experimental Mechanics (SEM), and Industrial Electronics Society (IES), among others. Bob also served on the ISA Recommended Practices Committee for Piezoelectric Pressure Transducers and Microphones, as well as the ASA Standards Committee for Piezoelectric Accelerometer Calibration. Many of the standards that Bob helped to develop, as part of these committees, remain relevant today.

Upon retirement, Bob remained committed to the education and training of the next generation of sensors industry professionals. He often gave tutorials and donated instrumentation for student use. Bob later continued that work as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. In the mid-2000s, he began to develop an innovative series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational models. Each was designed to provide a greater understanding of various sensing technologies, their principles of operation, and “real life” illustrations of practical applications.

STEM sensing model, with adjustable pendulums, by Bob Lally.

Among Bob’s final works was a unique STEM model consisting of three adjustable connected pendulums. That model was used to illustrate the concept of energy flex transference and the influence of physical structural modifications on structural behavior. Bob continued his mentoring and STEM work nearly right up until his passing. He did so with unwavering dedication and enthusiasm, despite being left permanently disabled from his combat injuries.

In addition to co-founding two of the most successful sensor manufacturers in history and his many R&D accomplishments, Bob’s generosity of spirit shall remain an important part of his legacy. I, like many, remain truly grateful for the selfless and meaningful contributions of Bob Lally to my early professional development, particularly in my technical article work. It is an honour to tell his story.

• He is survived by his son, Patrick (Kathi) Lally of Orchard Park, New York; his grandson, Joshua Lally; his surviving siblings, Jim, MaryAnn (Wilson), and Patricia; and his many nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues.

• Special thanks to Jim, Kathi and Patrick Lally for their support and contributions to this article.

• All pictures used hear are by kind courtesy of the Lally family.
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Celebrating Northern Europe’s Automation Engineers Engineering.

08/12/2017

NIDays welcomed hundreds of delegates from across Northern Europe to the historic Sandown Park Racecourse in England in November 2017, for its annual conference and exhibition. Each event was designed to educate and inspire the engineering community. Delegates to NIDays were given exclusive access to innovative technologies and could explore NI’s latest software, in a full day of keynote speeches, technical presentations and hands-on sessions.

Northern European Engineering Impact Awards
The night before, some of Northern Europe’s best engineers attended the prestigious Engineering Impact Awards.  The well-respected Engineering Impact Awards celebrated the most innovative engineering applications based on NI hardware and software.

Coventry University’s Dr Bo Tan won ‘Application of the Year’ for his system that combines passive WiFi sensing hardware and machine learning algorithms to monitor the health, activity and well-being of patients within nursing homes, allowing staff to improve their levels of efficiency and care.

Other winners include:

Advanced Manufacturing: Paving the Way for Industry 4.0 with Smart, Reconfigurable Manufacturing Machines
Biomedical: Combining Passive WiFi Sensing and Machine Learning Systems to Monitor Health, Activity and Well-Being within Nursing Homes
Education: Teaching Electronics to the Next Generation of Engineers using VirtualBench
Innovative Research: Unlocking Fusion Energy – Our Path to a Sustainable Future
Test and Validation: Saab Elevates Testing of the World’s Most Cost-Effective Fighter Plane
Wireless Communication: Using the LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite to Increase Spectral Efficiency for Wireless Communication

“The Northern European EIA’s were incredible this year. The breadth of applications showed what our products can do in the hands of world-class scientists and engineers!” says Dave Wilson, Vice President – Product Marketing for Software, Academia and Customer Education.

NIDays
Professors, researchers and design engineers were amongst the audience of the morning keynote ‘Testing and Deploying the Next Generation of Technology’ hosted by NI VP Dave Wilson. In this session, NI experts explained how the NI platform is accelerating innovation in applications ranging from transportation safety to the IoT.

During the afternoon keynote, Stuart Dawson, Chief Technology Officer at the University of Sheffield’s (GB) Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) was welcomed to the stage to discuss how super-trends like Industry 4.0, energy and the electrification of transportation are changing the way we live and work. Charlotte Nicolaou, Software Field Marketing Engineer, walked through how NI are continuing the LabVIEW legacy with the evolution of the world’s most productive and efficient engineering software, introducing LabVIEW NXG 2.0 and other new software releases including NI Package Manager.

Delegates had a chance to ‘dirty their hands!’

Delegates also had the opportunity to view application specific demonstrations that showcased the latest NI products and technology in the Expo Area, with plenty of NI engineers on hand to discuss their engineering challenges and technical questions. Participants also enjoyed an array of track sessions that included LabVIEW Power Programming and Test & RF Hands-On, giving users the opportunity to learn practical skills and network with specialists and peers.

Throughout the day, several guest presenters took to the stage including Jeff Morgan and Garret O’Donnell of Trinity College Dublin (IRL) and Niklas Krakau from Saab Aeronautics who discussed their incredible application enabling efficient testing of the world’s most cost-effective fighter plane, the Saab Gripen E.

Attentive Audience!

“NIDays allows us to highlight game-changing industry trends, whilst unveiling new, innovative technologies. However, it is the attendees, presenters, partners and exhibitors that provide the conference’s true highlights. What was my favourite part of the day? Learning how Coventry University is using WiFi signals to wirelessly monitor patient health through-walls? Meeting elite researchers and heads of industry during the dedicated networking sessions? Taking a tour of Cardiff University’s historic race car? Or sampling a ‘perfect pint’ of ale, courtesy of the robot bartender from Leeds University? NIDays was packed with inspiring moments and experiences that I will remember for a long, long time to come” says Richard Roberts, Senior Academic Technical Marketing Engineer.

12 exhibitors joined the lively atmosphere of the main exhibition hall, including Amfax, Austin Consultants and The Formula Student Silverstone 2017 winners, Cardiff Racing, who proudly displayed their history making Formula 1 car. Many more NI customers and partners filled the hall with their impressive applications, some of which won awards at the Engineering Impact Awards the previous evening.

@NIukie #PAuto #TandM #NIDays @NIglobal

Rewards for good automation reads!

18/09/2015

The International Society of Automation (ISA) has announced the recipients of its 2015 author awards presented annually by ISA’s Publications Department.

“Each year, ISA is proud to recognize and thank all of the talented authors and contributors who help develop, review and deliver outstanding ISA publications and technical resources to automation and control professionals throughout the world,” said Susan Colwell, director of ISA’s Publications Department and Publisher of ISA’s InTech magazine.

Winners are recognized for their editorial contributions to a wide range of ISA publications, including ISA books; InTech, ISA’s bi-monthly magazine for automation and control professionals; and ISA Transactions, ISA’s bi-monthly professional journal dedicated to the science and engineering of measurement and automation.

Winners will be honored at an awards luncheon at ISA’s Fall Leaders Meeting, 10-13 October in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. The luncheon will take place on Monday, 12 October. 

Awards and award recipients

The Keith Otto Award
Jan-Feb-2014-InTech-cvrThe Keith Otto Award recognizes the author or authors of the best article in InTech magazine. The award was presented to Leif Poulsen for his article, “Life-cycle and long-term migration planning: Successfully upgrading and replacing systems in a running production environment,” which appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of InTech.

Poulsen is the senior specialist of automation and IT at NNE Pharmaplan. He holds a master’s degree and a doctorate degree in process engineering and is certified as a professional enterprise architect according to the TOGAF 9 standards. At NNE Pharmaplan, Poulsen is responsible for the development of technology, methods, and competencies within automation and IT and works as a senior business consultant for customers worldwide.

He is an expert on business analysis and conceptual design of automation and IT solutions, including how to deploy such solutions effectively in a GxP regulated organization. He is an active member of ISA88 and ISA95 standards committees.

The Nels Tyring Award
The Nels Tyring Award recognizes the author or authors of the best published article in one of the Society’s journals. Allan Kern is this year’s recipient for his article, “Multivariable control performance: The case for model-less multivariable control,” which appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of InTech.

Kern, P.E., possesses more than 35 years of process control experience. He has authored numerous papers on topics ranging from field instrumentation, safety systems and loop tuning to multivariable control, inferential control and expert systems.

From 2001 to 2008, Kern served as automation leader at a major Middle Eastern refinery, where his responsibilities included deployment and performance of multivariable control systems. Since 2005, Kern has published more than a dozen papers on multivariable control performance. In 2012, he became an independent process control consultant serving clients worldwide.

The Raymond D. Molloy Award
WCFThe Raymond D. Molloy Award is presented annually in honor of Raymond D. Molloy’s contributions to the automation profession. Molloy was dedicated to the ISA publications program for more than 20 years, maintaining a keen interest in developing high-quality publications that met the needs of measurement and control professionals. This year’s award recipients are Terrence L. “Terry” Blevins, Deji Chen, Ph.D., Mark Nixon and Willy Wojsznis, Ph.D., whose book, Wireless Control Foundation: Continuous and Discrete Control for the Process Industry, outsold all other ISA books published in 2014.

• Blevins, principal technologist in the applied research team at Emerson Process Management, has been actively involved in the application and design of process control systems throughout his career. He was instrumental in the establishment of Emerson Process Management’s Advanced Control Program. From 1998-2005, Blevins served as the team lead for the development of DeltaV advanced control products. From 1994-2013, he was the Fieldbus Foundation team lead for the development and maintenance of the Function Block Specification and editor of the SIS Architecture and Model Specifications.

He is the US expert to the IEC SC65E WG7 function block committee that is responsible for the IEC 61804 function block standards. He is a voting member and chairman of ISA SP104-EDDL (Electronic Device Description Language) committee and is the technical advisor to the United States Technical Advisory Group (USTAG) for the IEC65E subcommittee. He is also a member of the USNC TAG (IEC/SC65 and IEC/TC65).

He co-authored the following best-selling ISA books: Advanced Control Unleashed (2002), Control Loop Foundation (2010), and Advanced Control Foundation (2012). He has more than 50 patents and has written more than 80 papers on process control system design and applications. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Louisville in 1971 and a master of science degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1973. In 2004, he was inducted into Control Magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame. Blevins is an ISA Fellow.

• Dr. Chen recently joined Tongji University as a professor at the Computer Science Department. His research will be focused on the industrial Internet, which is the continuation of his work at Emerson Process Management, where he was a member of the DeltaV future architecture team. Chen has been involved in process automation for almost two decades. He was among the first people who created OPC, and has worked on different fieldbuses, including WirelessHART.

He co-authored the first definitive book, WirelessHART: Real-Time Mesh Network for Industrial Automation (2010), and translated the ISA best-selling book, Control Loop Foundation – Batch and Continuous Processes, into Chinese (2012). In 1999 he received a doctorate degree from the University of Texas at Austin; his thesis was titled, “Real-Time Data Management in the Distributed Environment.” Chen is an IEEE senior member and an ISA senior member.

• Nixon,director of applied research at Emerson Process Management, has been involved in the process industries throughout his career. He started his career as a systems engineer working on projects in oil & gas, chemicals, and pulp & paper. He moved from Canada to Austin, Texas in 1988 where he has held various positions in both research and development.

From 1995 through 2005 Nixon was lead architect for DeltaV. In 2006 he joined the wireless team, taking a very active role in the development of WirelessHART and IEC 62591. His current research includes control, data analytics, wireless, low power, virtualization, and operator interfaces.

He has co-authored the following books: WirelessHART Real-Time Mesh Network for Industrial Automation (2010), Control Loop Foundation for Batch and Continuous Processes (2010), and Advanced Control Foundation (2012). He holds more than 85 patents. In 2012 he was inducted into Control Magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame. Nixon is an ISA Fellow. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo in 1982.

• Dr. Wojsznis, senior technologist at Emerson, has been involved in the development of advanced control products over the last nearly 25 years, focusing on model predictive control, auto tuning and data analytics. Over the previous 25 years of his career, he worked on developing computer control systems and applications. His professional work resulted in a number of successful and innovative advanced control products, more than 40 patents, and more than 50 technical papers.

He received a control engineering degree (EE) from Kiev Technical University in 1964, a master of science degree in applied mathematics from Wroclaw University in 1972, and a doctorate degree from Warsaw University of Technology in 1973. He co-authored two best-selling ISA books: Advanced Control Unleashed (2002) and Advanced Control Foundation (2012).

In 2010, Wojsznis was inducted into Control Magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame. He is an ISA Fellow.

ISA Transactions Best Paper Award

ISATransactions172ISA Transactions Best Paper Award recognizes the best technical paper published in ISA Transactions, the ISA professional journal dedicated to the science and engineering of measurement and automation, over the previous year.

This year’s award recipients are Junyong Zhai, Ph.D., and Wenting Zha. Their winning paper, “Global adaptive output feedback control for a class of nonlinear time-day systems”, ISA Transactions, Vol. 53, Issue 1,” was judged to be the best paper published in the journal in 2014. (ISA members have free online access to ISA Transactions. Non-ISA members can learn more about the journal by clicking here.)

• Dr. Zhai received his doctorate degree in automatic control from Southeast University in Nanjing, China in 2006. From September 2009 to September 2010, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Currently, he is a professor at the School of Automation, Southeast University. Dr. Zhai has published more than 100 technical papers. His current research interests include nonlinear systems control, stochastic time-delay systems and switching control.

Zha is a doctoral student at the School of Automation, Southeast University. From September 2014 to September 2015, she was a visiting doctoral student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her current research interests include stochastic nonlinear control, finite-time control and adaptive control.