Automation? Say what again?!

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.

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