Five Decades in Automation

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Five decades seems shorter than fifty years. It was 50 years ago in June that I started working in industry. It was my fourth job. (One through three were TV Guide route, the paper routes were all taken; stock clerk in a drug store, great job for a high schooler, 75 cents an hour; and very briefly, laborer in a foundry.) For about six months I worked at what was then the Packard Electric Division of General Motors. Drawing wiring harnesses for GM cars. I was a draftsman (to use the old, politically incorrect title), working my way through college.


I’m way in the back at my drafting table.

Starting late in 1966 I began working for a machinery OEM. Drawing, then designing, controls for plastics and rubber machinery. I designed in temperature controllers with jeweled movements. I designed relay ladder logic on D-sized vellum using a universal arm drafting machine and implemented with, you guessed it, physical relays. Took a break from working for my senior year – finally got that BSEE (and a wife and 2.5 children). Took a brief sojourn working for a customer, designing controls for plastics extrusion production lines and more. Departed in 1983 as the engineering manager over mechanical and electrical engineering.

Moved to Arizona working for a manufacturer of temperature and process controls (and to start a church, but that’s a different story). Didn’t have the good sense to stay in Arizona and instead worked my way up the company ladder before leaving as engineering manager for the system integrator group. Then to another system integrator and some really neat projects.  Using proprietary networks (Tiway and DH+).

Then the Wonder years. I wonder where they went. At the beginning of the Wonder years was elected to the Board of Directors of the PROFIBUS Trade Organization – 1994. The PROFI connection runs deep.

Some consulting. Then helping expand a web survey software company into overseas markets. Then back to my roots with a return to PTO as Deputy Director. Some observations from my path:

Cars don’t use so many wires today; they use networks.

Machinery does not use so many relays today; they use networks.

Production lines don’t use so many closed networks today; they use open networks.

Getting my four-year engineering degree were the toughest six years of my life.

So over the last 50 years I’ve progressed from drawing wiring harnesses to educating folks about their replacement, open automation networks, PROFINET and PROFIBUS.

Today, being my birthday, seemed like a good time to look back and consider the progress and changes in my chosen field. But I’m looking forward too – having too much fun to stop now.

–Carl Henning

3 Responses to “Five Decades in Automation”

  1. Volker Goller

    Happy birthday, Carl! You are an inspiration!

    And one day you have to tell me about that church you started!

  2. Ken Hoover

    Congratulations, Carl. You and I have circled paths for about the last 45 years. My years prior to being involved in industrial automation included running a pizza joint in Cleveland, being a summer-replacement postman, and driving one of those floor sweepers in a factory that made screws from wire stock. I did not cross paths with you in any of those professions, but having worked with you for the past 13 years has been a pleasure. Guys like us just have to keep going.

  3. Carl Henning

    Volker, we can chat at SPS Drives this November.

    Ken, my early jobs were also in northeastern Ohio. Packard Electric is (was?) in Warren, the OEM was in Akron, and the plastic extrusion company was in Aurora. Small world; it’s a wonder we didn’t cross paths sooner.

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