Wanted to share some of the specific (and real-world) job roles we find in the field of Automation.  These recent job postings were taken from the Canadian job site, Workopolis.  I have stripped off company information, soft skills, etc. leaving just the duties and required skills parts.

This list is not comprehensive — in fact, it reflects job positions from a single area, i.e., process industry.  Nevertheless, it should give a general idea.

First the titles; descriptions follow:

Automation and Instrumentation Engineer
Applications Engineer
Control Infrastructure Specialist
Advanced Process Control Engineer


Automation and Instrumentation Engineer

The Automation and Instrumentation Engineer will interface with the Contractors in the development of all engineering deliverables (EDS and Detailed Engineering) on time and on budget, and ensuring that all applicable standards, best practices, specifications and regulations (particularly those related to HSE requirements) are met.

Duties:

– Provide technical assistance during construction, pre-commissioning, commissioning, start-up
– Provide direction and design review for instrumentation and control systems (DCS) for all phases of the project including detailed design, construction, and commissioning and start-up
– Develop and review project design standards and specifications, instrument data sheets, loop diagrams, control logics and etc.
– Manage the interface for Automation and DCS area between EPC contractor, [Owner] Project team and [Owner] central automation group.

Skills:
– instrumentation and control engineering design
– working with equipment on mineral processing plants and/or large oil production facilities
– hands on instrumentation engineering knowledge in the field
– Foundation Fieldbus, ASi Networks, Modbus and DeviceNet
– working with and directing Contractors/EPC firms.

 

Applications Engineer

The Applications Engineer will provide knowledge and expertise to the wider team with regards to process performance monitoring using OSIsoft PI-Process Book and related tools. The role will work closely with engineering to ensure escalated issues are resolved in a timely manner while continuing to be the customer liaison and maintaining the customer interface.

Duties:

– Monitor and maintain the health of [Owner] Process Information (PI) database system and performance monitoring applications
– Interface with other [Owner] stakeholders, plan and implement process performance monitoring applications
– Manage database, system growth and storage requirements
– Manage the assignment of PI tags for new data to be collected
– Work closely with IS team to ensure the PI system version and licensing is up-to-date
– Develop, monitor and report Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for PI system performance
– Work closely with DCS team in accessing and validating data
– Configure PI database to collect information from and provide information to various existing and new systems on various networks
– Manage, configure, and troubleshoot OPC links to third party database applications and databases
– Define, manage, and configure data system configuration standards
– Support numerous business users on the development of PI applications (Process Workbook, Microsoft Excel, others)
– Develop and configure calculations with PI to support user requirements.

 

Control Infrastructure Specialist

The Control Infrastructure Specialist will provide direction to engineering companies for controls system infrastructure design and implementation within [Owner’s] thermal (SAGD and CSS) projects. The successful candidate will work with local engineering companies assisting them with the development of control system communication layouts, topologies and configuration parameters to ensure project objectives are met.

Duties:

– Maintain overall automation (DCS / PLC / SCADA) system health and reliability over all areas
– Maintain, develop and expand a variety of control components including servers, clients, communication equipment, user interfaces and applications
– Assist in the development of access control technologies within the control system
– Configure and maintain communications equipment including Ethernet, Fiber Optics, radios and MODBUS networks
– Maintain a variety of operator consoles, engineering stations, servers and controllers
– Input to and compliance with automation configuration, graphic and system standards
– Maintain accuracy of control philosophies and automation architecture drawings/P&IDs
– Establish and execute automation preventative maintenance procedures
– Ensure shutdown dependant systems work is ready for implementation on short notice
– Ensure control system hardware and software is migrated to current operational and vendor standards
– Plan, organize and manage projects – coordinate/oversee/direct outside contractors
– Interface with Operations, Maintenance and Engineering to ensure additions and changes are well coordinated and meet all requirements
– Identify software/hardware/communication needs of control systems
– Troubleshoot and repair problems that occur in the everyday use of our control systems
– Familiar with relevant regulatory directives and industry practices pertaining to systems hardware/software

Skills:
– Programming with DCS, PLC, HTML, JavaScript and VBScript
– Solid knowledge of control systems and industrial communication EtherNet/IP, MODBUS, RS485/232, the Common Industrial Protocol, ControlNet, DeviceNet and OLE for Process Control
– Operations Applications including asset management, historians and other reporting systems
– Windows 2003 Servers, domain controllers, Cisco IOS.

 

Advanced Process Control Engineer

The Advanced Process Control Engineer will help drive [Owner’s] applications systems to Advanced Process Control (APC) systems to maximize efficiency and production performance from the Automation systems.
– Demonstrate the use of superior industry standards by ensuring all applicable standards, best practices, specifications and regulations are met
– Contribute to the selection and development of the Advanced Process Control (APC) applications and Real Time Optimization (RTO) applications to create the highest level of production performance
– Provide continuing support in the area of process control and interfacing with the Distributed Control System (DCS)
– Implement and maintain basic, intermediate and advanced level process control strategies
– Generate ideas for improvement projects, including measurement of benefits and development of project cost/benefit analyses
– Assist in the simulation, modeling and optimization studies of the units
– Ensure controls are aligned with plant optimization direction
– Work closely with end users to train personnel on the effective use of the systems.

 

A colleague of mine resigned recently, so we were on a lookout for his replacement.  I sent out the job ad via email to my network and to a mailing list (which in turn must have cascaded to more mailing lists, judging from the response).  I was amazed by the response — no, not the quantity, but the quality of response.  Let me elaborate:

The title of the position is ‘Systems Engineer.’  Which was also the subject of my email.  Now, the job does entail a good bit of IT stuff, like networking, working with databases, and SQL queries.  The core responsibility, however, is supporting production information and control systems.  OPC, and Profibus expertise, among other Automation skills are specifically required.  So, the title does reflect the responsibilities fairly well, when read with the job description.  On its own, I admit, may sound like a pure IT position.

Of all the responses received (30+), only one of them was barely close to the skills required.  A majority of them were for IT positions.  (When I mentioned about IT and Automation merging in my previous post, I did not know I had so many readers.)  It was clear they looked only at the subject of my email and assumed it was an IT position.

The rest of the applications had nothing to do with IT, systems, or any kind of engineering!  Wow.  Is this how one applies for a job?  Without even reading the job description?  Another thing which blew me away was, how many of these were just blank email with only the resume attached.  Some were kind enough to add, “FYI..”

I quickly deleted all of them (FYI == For You to Incinerate.)  Not fun, but what else could I do?

Memo to self:  always read job descriptions — twice; never apply for jobs I don’t qualify for, and always include a concise cover-letter expressing genuine interest.  And, follow-up after a week or so (none did in this case).

It’s almost always an awkward situation when someone asks what I do for a living. Trying to quickly gauge the person’s technical standing — in just the time he took to ask — I frame my answer. If the person appears to have a technical background, I reluctantly go: “I am an Automation Engineer” and hope he understood what I meant. Not many do.

In general, it’s tricky to explain what Automation is to people who haven’t been exposed to it. “Oh, so you work with robots?” could be the response. While true, Automation is much more than that. In fact, it is a very wide field with lots of technologies as we’ll see in a minute.

“Automation is like the brains of a factory/plant” should work. It’s less confusing to use “factory” than “plant” though. If all else fails, try the catch-all: “I work in IT… with computers and stuff.” Which, by the way, is actually true — as of this writing, Automation at our company is under IT. (I know; that day and age has come.)

Anyway, the point being: it’s sad how less is known about this field. Things are changing though.  Bela Liptak, in a pre-keynote interview with International Society of Automation (ISA) suggested that Automation is just getting to the point of being recognized as a profession, while arguing its contribution being the highest compared to other professions.

Also, an Automation Federation (minus Mr. Spock) has been established with the mission:  “…providing awareness, programs, and services that continually advance the automation profession for the betterment of humanity.”

Automation encompasses: Control Systems, Process Control, Instrumentation, DCS, PLC, HMI/SCADA, Industrial Communications, Data Logging & Historians, Production Control & MES, Plant Information Systems, Asset Management, and yes Robotics too. I am sure I have left out some. And that makes it difficult to define it precisely. A broad definition is thus needed to cover everything. The Automation Federation has come up with a clever one:

“the creation and application of technology to monitor and control the production and delivery of products and services.”

So, there you have it.  By the way, my current and previous business cards read: Software Developer, Applications Engineer, Systems Engineer, among others.  All these were at Automation companies though.  Currently, I am more of a Production Information Systems guy at an operating company.

Stay tuned… as I ramble on the creation and application of technology to monitor and control.. err, I mean, Automation.

I am starting this blog for multiple reasons. Giving back to the community being one. Sharing what I know, and in doing so I am sure I will learn more myself — Share what you know, learn what you don’t!

Topics will mostly be about Automation and related fields.  And technology in general. I will try to cover issues and topics for which there are no easy references. And of course those which piqué my curiosity. Many of these will be new to me as well. I am (selfishly) hoping this blog will force me to be a bit more systematic in researching and documenting these.

I also wish this will be a logbook of my experiences. Many a times I wish I had documented a particular technology I got to work with, or a good concept I read somewhere, etc. So expect some rambling ons.