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A Brief History of the ISA - Carolina Piedmont Section

Originally ritten on the occasion of our 40th anniversary on January 8, 1992, and appended for the occasion of our 60th anniversary in 2012 by Section Historian Emeritus, Albert S. "Al" Warren.

Sixty years ago on November 9, a group of forty-six interested persons gathered at the old Selwyn Hotel in Charlotte to establish a local section of the Instrument Society of America, a national organization that was only five years old. The groundwork for this meeting and, to a large extent, the original development of the section was due to Earl Seagrave, Bob Stoveken, Eugene (Gene) Finch, Frank Lawrence and Bill Simons, Sr.

The group selected Earl Seagrave as their temporary chairman and Frank Lawrence, Bob Stoveken, Ed Fiss, Gene Finch, and Frank Mendes III as the other temporary officers.

The original name, "Carolinas Section", did not meet the approval of National Headquarters because it might confuse and hamper the formation of future sections in this area, a judgment that has proven to be prophetic. On January 8, 1952, the section, now recognized as "Carolina Piedmont Section" was chartered and formally started its growth and development. The interest and purpose of the originating group and the foresight of the National Headquarters has borne fruit over the years in the chartering of the Carolina Golden Triangle, Columbia, Cape Fear, Tar Heel Capital Area and Western Carolinas sections.

It was later, on October 16, 1967, that these precepts acquired legal stature when, on the advice of National Headquarters and others, the Section became incorporated under the laws of North Carolina to be "organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes". (However, later in 1972 following an audit by the IRS the sections exempt status was changed to 501 (c)(6) “Business Leagues”)

In the fall of 1954, the Section sponsored an instrument symposium at "North Carolina State College" - now NCSU. This humble beginning was an immediate success and prompted the Savannah River Section to develop a similar regional meeting and exhibit. This filled the need of local people wanting to see the products offered by area vendors without having to travel to the distant national show. Although National Headquarters had some misgivings about the possible dilution of appeal for the Annual Conference and Exhibit, the idea persisted and became the Southeastern Conference and Exhibit (SECON).

Since the beginning symposium the Section has hosted successful SECON meetings in 1961, 1967 and 1977. Although viable for many years, the interest in SECON waned in the 1980's as costs escalated and the travel required did not satisfy the needs of the increasing number of sections with blossoming membership. Could the Carolina-Piedmont Section show the way again? In the late 1960's there developed an occasional meeting program wherein a number of the local vendors would bring in one of their new or interesting products and make a five-minute presentation to the attending membership. The idea fulfilled a need for local participation and dialog.

In 1976 the concept gave in to natural development and the annual "Vendor's Night" was moved into a hall large enough to accommodate booths and more formal displays. Symposia and tutorials are now being offered in conjunction with the exhibits. Emulated by the other sections in the area, the problems of conflicting schedules and exhibitor expense are being addressed by cooperation between the sections. Each section enjoys an attendance of several hundred at each exhibit.

No narrative of the progress of this section would be complete without the mention of the many interesting plant tours and visits to local facilities. Virtually every type of industry doing business in this area has been kind enough to show us around. Since this has been almost an annual event, a listing would be unwieldy and any other acknowledgment would unfairly represent the diverse interests of the membership. Certainly the organizations representing endeavors in the fields of government, health, education, municipal and private utilities, pulp and paper, textiles, chemical fibers, tobacco, electronics, transportation, machine tools, etc. have our gratitude.

The Section has matured over the years and is now in its sixth decade of activity. In a 1990 meeting the recorded voices of some of the membership captured on tape twenty-five years earlier where played back. The subject matter was their conjectures on the future of instrumentation. The results were essentially correct in content but had been delayed in time. Many meetings offer the membership introduction to new devices and concepts by learned speakers. Both analog and digital technology is explored. The most popular meeting presentations have involved membership participation in round-table discussions of contending concepts. Note should be made that outside "experts" were not required for these programs; our own authorities have been fully qualified.

The membership can be justifiably proud of its pioneering ideas and the recognized stature of its people who have contributed their talents beyond the local area to the regional and national level. Through the hard work of all involved in the SECON and Vendor's Night exhibits (now know as Product Education Days) the section has succeeded financially. This now enables us to emphasize the original exempt status as incorporated "educational and scientific purposes" of our charter by cooperating with the Community College and University of North Carolina through awards, grants, student chapters and other scholastic incentives.

The original purpose of the Section is as valid and vigorous today as it was in 1951. The membership, in 1992 over four hundred strong and including some second-generation family members, is moving purposefully in the final decade of the millennium.

In 1999 we roasted a long standing member, John Rodgers and you can view some of the photos of the even on our Photos Page

An all out effort was made in 2006 to host an exhibit and conference in Charlotte, NC at the Lowes Motor Speedway.  The out come was luke warm with 27 vendors manning table tops and about 100 attendees for the seminars.  It turned out to be a great place to hold such an event.  There was plenty of parking, the food was very good, and the accommodations for the exhibit and presentations couldn't have been better.  Advertising was sent to over 3000  members and instrument types in both Carolinas and we had hoped for at least 200 attendees, but fell short.

November 1st 2007 we roasted a member, Albert S. Warren, Our Historian who has been with ISA for 50 years. Photos Page for PDF file

And now, in 2012, the work and camaraderie continue. Times and techniques have had major changes. The originators of the section are no longer with us, sadly some have passed away. Many of the corporations, both users and vendors, have changed names or are no longer in business. The dominating industries of the area have changed from Textiles to Nuclear Power, which has certainly magnified the importance of a sophisticated technical background.

Our section still honors the charter commitment to "educational and scientific purposes". The SECON conference/exhibits are now a thing of the past. The bulk of the technical data is no longer passed out at local, sectional, or national conference/exhibits but rather via the Internet.

The most popular of our meetings in the prior period focused on the differences of analog and digital technology. Presently the interest level focuses on the configuration of the field databus. Multi-conductor cables with distribution connector boxes are “frowned” upon. Robotics is becoming increasingly prevalent in the manufacturing industries. “Driverless” automobiles are an infant reality. Not only must we formalize the safety/risk analysis of a process area but also prepare for the ravages of possible cyber attack and malware. All of which can descend on us in microseconds.

Because of the mobility of people around the globe, our society, which is now the “International Society of Automation”, on a local level is not as robust. (The section remains Instrument Society of America Carolina Piedmont Section, Inc) By contrast, however, many of our members sport the professional engineering designation of CSE, Control Systems Engineer.

It is well to review the decades as they progress. It gives evidence of great progress we cannot foresee. Let us all look forward to the next milestone with pride and pleasure!

Due to falling attendance and member involvement, the Board voted to close the Section and Dissolve the Instrument Society of America Carolina Piedmont Section, Inc.  Sept 2017


Last History Update: 2017 by Historian Al Warrwn
Web Author: Cliff Johnson