I/O, I/O, so off to work I go…simple, right? Input. Output. Repeat. That’s the recipe for process automation, there’s no denying it. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? If only it were that simple. If it required nothing more than to memorize this little recipe, we could get a dumb robot (programmed in Fortran!) to handle our jobs and we could sit at home with our feet up watching “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel.
Alas, it will never be that easy – the fate of the automation professional is to become the “go-to” expert at a plant, to impact the company’s bottom line and ultimately to contribute to the overall economy. (Okay, that’s the last time I’m going to say “automation professional” in this article because, as you know, I invented the word “autopro” in my last blog post – much more hip, don’t you think?)
Your work as an autopro requires troubleshooting skills, good judgment, safety awareness, experience, training and tons of specialized knowledge – that’s what makes you so special. Like a surgeon, you must know just what to do to correct a process and what to do to improve it. You must understand how everything in the enterprise is inter-dependent, and see the cause and effect of every process adjustment or equipment change. On top of myriad things we must know and act upon daily to be effective, we are faced with a changing technological and competitive environment which constantly threatens to make our jobs, products, our employers – even ourselves as workers – obsolete. No big deal, right?
Even so, most of the autopros I know wouldn’t trade their careers for anyone else’s – because they love the challenge; they love the machines themselves; they love producing something tangible and making a difference every day. You may feel that way yourself – loving the victory of solving tough problems and the satisfaction of making the process work better, saving money or resources, improving product quality, and helping keep the facility safe for yourself and your co-workers.
In my career as a manufacturer’s representative, I saw processing facilities that made everything from missiles, pharmaceuticals and semiconductors to ketchup, table sugar and tomato sauce. There was one thing I noticed about every one of these plants: they were fascinating. Watching the control panels, observing the automation work, meeting the employees who were so competent and so responsible – I was definitely hooked. And the one thing I learned is that every variable has more variables and they ALL affect the manufacturing process.
So how do you get that insider information, expert training and specialized knowledge? How do you keep up with changing technology, learn the newest best practices, and – hey – just talk to someone else who knows what PID stands for? We all know that what is taught in school versus the real world are very often two different things, so we usually learn our best lessons from those who are our peers and mentors.
Every professional group has its annual conference and members must stay current in the profession. ISA is our professional society – home to the autopro – and I’m privileged to be working with an amazing team of authors, trainers, specialists and automation veterans – your peers – who are putting together a unique and comprehensive learning and networking program for you at YOUR annual conference – ISA Automation Week. Check out the Education Tracks.
When I attend a conference where I have an opportunity to learn with and from my peers, initially I have this nagging worry about taking the time away from my job. Or I feel bad that I spent money and wonder if it will be worth it. But once I get there and start learning and gaining new perspectives, getting access to cutting-edge data, fresh thinking and new concepts about how to do what I do even better, faster, smarter – I know that I was right to take a little time away to do so much more, so much better when I return. I don’t want to be an input/output/repeat kind of worker. I want to be like you. I know that input/output/repeat is NOT what you are all about. You want to be the one who thoughtfully and properly does your job in the best possible way – for the benefit of all.
I look forward to seeing you at ISA Automation Week – in Nashville, by the way, and is there any place more fun? Please connect with me at the event and tell me something you learned or someone you met that inspired you. Inspire me! I can’t wait. Because I want a career that is more than Fortran can ever offer me. Don’t you?
Carol M. Schafer has more than 35 years of experience in the industrial automation and control field as a technical sales and marketing professional. She spent 14 years in the field as principal of a manufacturer’s representative company, selling flow and humidity products, air and gas analyzers, CEM equipment, and sampling systems. She also worked for several years as the East Coast sales manager for a leading weather instrument/systems manufacturer. Carol joined ISA in 1996, and is currently project manager for the Society’s annual conference, ISA Automation Week. She also serves as a senior consultant with the ISA Corporate Partnerships Program. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the California State University at Sacramento, and a master’s degree in business administration from San Jose State University.