A great offer interrupted professor’s retirement

Thursday 27 Apr 17
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by Andreas Johansen

Contact

Morten Lind
Professor Emeritus, Senior Researcher
DTU Electrical Engineering
+4545 25 35 66
Morten Lind is 72 years and professor emeritus, but his area of expertise—automation of industrial processes—is in such high demand that he is now back at work and busier than ever.

True to his nature, Morten Lind has printed out neat piles of reference material and planned everything down to the last detail in preparation for the interview. So let’s start at the beginning.

In 1969, on completing his MSc in engineering, Morten took up a position at the Nuclear Experiment Station Risø where he began working with the automation of safety-critical processes within the energy sector. This proved to be pivotal with regard to Morten’s long working career. Later he became professor of automation at DTU, and he has since become one of the leading experts in the field.

“At the beginning of my career at Risø, I worked with self-organizing control systems, which led to a PhD degree in 1977. This is an area which in one way or another, I’ve been involved with ever since. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to focus on fully automated systems, as the interaction between man and machine is crucial in safety-critical systems,” he explains.

As Morten pours hot coffee from the red plastic thermos into his mug, he explains why he suddenly went from being a professor emeritus who—although maintaining a daily presence at DTU—decided once again to accept a position at DTU. It all started with an email from the Norwegian technology company, Eldor Technology

“There are several reasons why the industry is beginning to take an interest in our methods now. Firstly, the industry has matured so we can now present concrete results. Secondly, companies using complex processes want to streamline and improve the reliability of their facilities. Finally, the tools based on artificial intelligence which are used in our methods have become ‘shelf items’ and the computers have become more powerful,” he explains.

It did not take him long to make up his mind when the email landed in his inbox. Morten had been waiting for precisely this kind of opportunity for many years, and when Norwegian Eldor Technology contacted him with a view to developing a decision support system that could help operators run their gas and oil plants, he was quick to accept. The Danish Hydrocarbon Research and Technology Centre at DTU subsequently joined the project.

"It took roughly 40 years to garner interest from the private sector. They have, of course, kept an eye on my work in the past, but this is the first time they’ve actually come knocking on my door and said that they need me. "

Photo: Mikal Schlosser

Tight deadlines

With the interest from industry came funding, and suddenly the otherwise retired professor found himself in a hectic job, surrounded by several PhD students and postdocs. Companies operating on tight deadlines expected results.

In the course of six months, Morten and his group carried out a preliminary project specifying the decision support system—called AlarmTracker—to assist operators handle complex operational situations. A main project was subsequently initiated in order to implement actual development of the AlarmTracker system.

The Danish Hydrocarbon Research and Technology Centre at DTU has concurrently invested more money in expanding the research activities as part of a research programme within Water Management in oil and gas production—with a focus on big data.

In collaboration with other departments at DTU and Aalborg University, Morten’s team is to develop methods for decision support and control systems for oil and gas production. It is hoped that the methods will contribute to increased uptimes for the water injection system and thus improve utilization of oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

“It took roughly 40 years to garner interest from the private sector. They have, of course, kept an eye on my work in the past, but this is the first time they’ve actually come knocking on my door and said that they need me. Funding of this magnitude doesn’t grow on trees—at least not for this kind of research—so it’s important to strike while the iron is hot,” explains Morten.

For the next couple of years, Morten Lind will have his hands full fulfilling the project with Eldor Technology and DHRTC. Asked whether he will ever retire again, he says he will think about it when they have demonstrated that the developed methods meet the needs of industry.