Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders by Volunteering for FIRST

Inspire the Next Generation of Leaders by Volunteering for FIRST

This post is written by Pat Gouhin, ISA executive director and CEO.

 

I recently had my most rewarding experience of the past year.  Some time ago, I agreed to volunteer for the regional, three-day FIRST Robotics Competition held in Raleigh, N.C.  I asked to be assigned to anywhere I was needed.  When I showed up for the first day of setup and practice, I found that I had been slotted as a member of a six-person team responsible for safety.   We were given cool green shirts emblazoned with the words “FIRST Safety Advisor” and we were briefed on our areas of responsibility.  Sounds simple, easy and straightforward, right?

FIRST Competition March 2014 Raleigh NC featured image

When you consider that we had the primary responsibility to keep a safe environment while 54 teams − some with more than 20 members − were building, assembling, testing, and operating electrical and mechanical robots that performed a variety of functions in a small area along with a few thousand spectators, it was anything but straightforward.

It was actually quite hectic.  Teams came from up and down the mid-Atlantic region and one team even traveled all the way from The Netherlands!  Each team had multiple mentors (engineers and technicians from their local communities), teachers from their schools, and parents.  They were assigned, with all of their equipment, to a 10-by-10-foot box within a special area called “The Pits” that was behind the arena where the game was to be played (watch the video).

Each match consisted of three teams representing the red side and three teams representing the blue side.  They had to work together to move big balls from one side of the field to the other, over trusses, and through baskets and windows where they scored points.  It was a very intense experience to say the least.  There were about 100 matches with each match made up of a different combination of six teams.  In the end, two teams would be crowned winners and move on the national competition in St. Louis, Mo.  Click this link to watch an amazing time-lapse video created by one of the teams.

I was most surprised and pleased to see how these high school students listened to every word that came out of the mouths of the safety advisors.  We were seen and respected as an authority figure that could give them guidance and advice ensuring their safety and those around them.  But it was not superficial: They were genuinely and sincerely interested in obtaining and maintaining a safe environment in all that they did.

There was the standard stuff like wearing safety glasses and making sure no one had opened-toed shoes but we went all the way through other safety factors involving proper operation of saws, drills, electrical equipment, battery charging and storage, movement, storage, testing of the robots, and more.  The team of safety advisors “patrolled” the area offering guidance and direction when we saw a potential infraction or safety concern. But then we also acted as a collective group and evaluated each team based on a variety of criteria.

Each day awards were given for the safest pit and to the individual who most embodied a safety culture.  After an evening consultation, we would go around the next morning and hand out the awards of a pin and certificate.  It was so refreshing to see the excitement on student faces as well as the satisfaction in the eyes of mentors and teachers.

ISA is a strategic alliance partner of FIRST.

 

While I was feeling particularly good about my choice to give my time to this well-organized and meaningful group, there was a particular moment that really struck home for me and put it all in perspective.  There was a roving deputy sheriff who had been assigned to the event for crowd control.  At one point I went over to her and asked how she was doing in keeping everybody in line.  She immediately shared how much she loved the assignment and how there was nothing more motivating than watching these teenagers interact with adults in such a positive and cultivating manner.  She told me that the day had given her a restored hope in the future.

She also offered that she NEVER sees this side of life; considering realities of law enforcement in a major metropolitan area.  She thanked me for volunteering my time to make a difference in the lives of these talented young people that will inherit the Earth.   It was a special moment, and was one of many expressions of gratitude that were delivered that day.

These events happen all over the world and there is more than likely a team in your local region that could use the helping hand and knowledge of a mentor.  If a team is not present, perhaps you would consider sponsoring one for 2015?  This would be a great activity for an ISA Section to embrace and support!  Discover the many volunteer or sponsorship opportunities for FIRST by visiting http://www.USFIRST.org.

About the AuthorPat Gouhin
Pat Gouhin is Executive Director and CEO of the International Society of Automation.  Before joining ISA, Pat served as chief operating officer of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and as the first vice president of Operations and Technology Transfer for the National Institute of Aerospace at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University.

 

 

A Sneak Preview of ISA’s New Website and Enhanced User Experience

A Sneak Preview of ISA’s New Website and Enhanced User Experience

This post is written by Pat Gouhin, ISA executive director and CEO.

The International Society of Automation has been putting the finishing touches on a brand new website, the customer − and member − facing portal that showcases all of ISA’s products, services, and technical information to the world. Behind the new website is a brand new, state-of-the-art association management system, which fulfills a similar purpose to a for-profit company’s customer relationship management system. ISA’s web presence also will integrate a new learning management system to enable training and certification customers to easily register and participate in professional development activities as well as track the progress of their educational programs.

ISA’s new website will be a key hub for technical information, networking conversations, and leveraging your membership value. The new site caters to user requests for expanded site-wide search and filtering capabilities, enhanced navigation with mega-menus that allow users to browse three levels deep in the site by hovering over a navigation button, and an intuitive and streamlined checkout process.

ISA attracts more than 1.2 million unique visitors each year. Your experience on the ISA website starts at the new home page.

ISA_home_page1

ISA new home page

ISA’s new home page: A top-to-bottom preview

ISA_home_page_upper1

Top portion of new ISA home page

The top portion of ISA’s new home page design features several important areas:

  • ISA’s logo and tagline, which immediately communicates the brand and its relevance to the audience.
  • ISA’s social media icons, inviting visitors to connect with ISA on our social channels.
  • Two bright, eye-catching opportunities to join ISA, which links to a new membership page and an enhanced checkout experience for new members.
  • An easy-to-find button to access the new Members Corner – a section of the site for our members and leaders to easily access the tools needed to make the most of your ISA membership. You can edit your profile, set your communication preferences, store your favorite articles and content items, see personalized recommendations just for you, view your member savings history, and more. The Members’ Corner section will feature calendar feeds so that you can keep up with the latest happenings in your Divisions, Sections, and committees from one central location. You’ll also be able to engage in dialogue with members and colleagues via ISA’s blog. Non-members can use this section to manage their accounts and preferences, see their order history, and access their downloaded purchases.
  • A search bar for visitors to immediately search the site for a keyword or resource.
  • A bold new menu bar that serves two purposes: first, it enables visitors to hover and navigate three levels deep on the site to find products and technical information; and second, first-time visitors can easily see what ISA offers – membership, training and certification, standards and publications, conferences and events, news and press releases, resources for different types of professionals, information arranged by technical topic, professional development resources, and a store showcasing ISA’s product suite.
  • A campaign area for ISA to call out its latest news, trending stories, and industry happenings.
  • Under the campaign area, there are featured products, calling attention to key ISA resources available in the store.
  • The technical topics menu, a primary feature in the middle of the home page, allows visitors to click to a technical topic of interest and see ISA articles, products, and technical papers related to that topic.
ISA_home_page_lower1

Bottom portion of new ISA home page

As we move down the home page to the next view, we see the bottom half of the home page, which features several useful content areas:

  • A section called “Welcome to ISA” that gives a more in-depth introduction to the Society and its mission.
  • A news “widget” that pulls in ISA news as well as articles and stories from across industry in the “global news” tab.
  • An events “widget” that showcases upcoming ISA events on one tab, and upcoming Section and industry events in the “global events” tab.
  • An InTech features section, providing easy access to feature stories from the most recent issue of ISA’s flagship publication, InTech magazine.
  • A running list of the most recent postings available on the ISA jobs page.
  • A recent video from ISA or one of our sponsoring companies, bringing a multimedia flavor to the home page layout.

The new ISA homepage has been designed with you – the ISA member, the ISA customer, and the consumer of information – in mind. We hope you find it easy to navigate, useful, and interesting.

We can’t wait to launch the site this spring and get your feedback – together, we can make the website a place you’ll visit often to find the latest and greatest information available in the world of automation.

Pat Gouhin

About the Author
Pat Gouhin is Executive Director and CEO of the International Society of Automation.  Before joining ISA, Pat served as chief operating officer of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and as the first vice president of Operations and Technology Transfer for the National Institute of Aerospace at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University.

 

A version of this article was published at the ISA website.

The cybersecurity threat – taking it personally

The cybersecurity threat – taking it personally

This recurring blog covers news about ISA Automation Week: Technology and Solutions Event from the unique viewpoint of the event’s project manager, Carol Schafer.  With a technical background to draw on, a penchant for humor and the inside track on conference updates, Carol informs and entertains with messages that are always illuminating and often downright funny.

If you’re threatening the security, safety or long-term viability of my workplace, you’re threatening me. And I don’t like it.  I take it personally.  And so should every person working in critical infrastructure facilities, because there are literally thousands of people in this world who do nothing all day, every day, but sit in a room figuring out ways to get through firewalls (easy – they do it all the time) and once they’re in, imagination is the only limit to the damage they can do.Cyber-Attack

We’re all aware of the so-called “cybersecurity threat,” and we hear a lot of casual conversation about it with comments like “Oh, a cyber-attack, yes, that sure would be terrible if it ever happened to some poor besieged company.”  None of us doubt that hackers and cyber terrorists are out there working hard.  After all, everyone’s heard about Stuxnet, so we all know, at least, that SCADA systems are potential targets.  We just don’t believe it will happen to us. We just don’t take it personally.

But the fact is, your company’s firewall (if your facility even has one) is likely being compromised while you’re reading this.  At the very least, cyber attackers are banging on that firewall repeatedly like a battering ram on a castle door.  With most SCADA and controls systems accessible to the Internet, sensitive information and critical processes are essentially vulnerable to having their back doors pried open to anything – or anybody – on the worldwide web.

This isn’t particularly “breaking news.”  I still remember my shock –and considerable anger – when I discovered that hackers had infiltrated the extremely modern 486 computer on which we ran our manufacturer’s rep business years ago in California’s Silicon Valley.  The CPU usage indicated 92 percent when the computer was idle and the hard drive light was always on – an “old school” alarm that told us something was wrong.  Invading subroutines had barged in over the Internet, installed themselves inside our nice warm PC and were happily grinding away, doing massive numbers of computations for their hacker masters.  Take it personally?  You bet I did.

Back then, safeguarding infrastructure and critical facilities like oil platforms, nuke plants or wastewater facilities wasn’t top of mind.  But today, we must face the staggering odds in favor of a major facility being taken off-line, having sensitive information stolen, or losing valuable intellectual property through cybersecurity breaches.  The possibilities for extortion, weakening of defense capabilities, the loss of intellectual property, and the crippling of communities – or even countries – so that an invading tyrant can make demands are simply overwhelming.

So if we know all this, why does it seem so difficult to take it personally – that is, to realize that individually we have a measure of the overall responsibility and take whatever actions we can?  It’s certainly not for lack of caring or good intention.  Here are my four favorite answers to that question:

  1. The consequences of a cybersecurity breach are overwhelming.  Humans find it hard to accept the eventuality of potentially catastrophic events. And no one can anticipate and monitor every single threat vector within a facility.  Admitting that our process controls or SCADA systems have weaknesses for which we are responsible is decidedly uncomfortable.  It’s much easier just to hope it never happens.  I know all about that, because that’s often what I do with regard to my home PC and laptops.  I don’t want to think about what might happen if all my personal information becomes available to hackers – but I find it overwhelming deciding which of the many anti-virus program to install (and I wonder if the anti-virus programs carry viruses), and I don’t know how often I should update to protect against the latest viruses. So I let anti-virus program updates go far too long because, after all, I’ll probably be okay, right?  Risky assumption!
  2. Automation systems are often an integration of technologies supplied from all over the world.  This creates thousands of potential vulnerabilities that are difficult to anticipate.  For example, how do we know what software might be lying dormant in an NIC (network interface card) until it’s installed and activated?
  3. Financially, some companies handle the risk of damage or loss from cyber-attack with an insurance policy, covering themselves for “business interruption.”  The safety of the plant and its employees and the welfare of the community at large are not well considered when business risks are seen as purely financial in nature.  An insurance policy may be revealed as a poor strategy in the aftermath of a security breach which severely impacts profitability, threatens the viability of the enterprise and compromises human safety.
  4. Taking cybersecurity personally means remaining ever-vigilant.  And that’s nearly impossible for humans to do.  For example, if a controls operator turns off the alarms on the system because he doesn’t need them for that part of the process, and then forgets to turn them back on later when he does need them, he will not know if a parameter has been changed by a cyber-attack while the alarms were turned off.  I’m not picking on my I&C pals here, but with everything a controls engineer must do at any given moment, human error is inevitable over time.  The controls operator also must decide what indicators, buried within the metric ton of plant data available at any given moment, should be considered anomalies or constitute a threat.  Again…overwhelming.

What Automation Week 2013can we do, now that we are all standing together and taking the cyber threat thing personally?  (We are, aren’t we?  Yes, I thought we were.)  The answer is, we can do one thing more than we did yesterday, and every step forward reduces the chance that we’ll wake up the next day, boot up our computer, and see a message from a cyber-hack demanding that we open our windows and shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” or else they’ll make us all watch endless reruns of The Gong Show.  <shiver>  No, thanks.

Here are a couple of suggestions for “getting personal” with cybersecurity, outside of what you can find in the (overwhelming) amount of research and data available:

  1. Get some knowledge, especially that hard-to-find knowledge you can get from your peers who have “been there.”  I would refer you to ISA Automation Week, a conference of your peers featuring many well-respected experts in the field of industrial infrastructure cybersecurity.  The Industrial Network Security Track is chock-full of information that you will only get one-on-one and not in a text book.  And there are several high-level discussions with industry experts that won’t often appear in front of an industrial audience to tell what they know about the infrastructure security.  Check it out.
  2. Employ a cybersecurity standard.  The ISA99 standard on Industrial Automation and Control Systems Security is a free download for ISA members and available to non-members as well. We’ll have knowledgeable people at ISA Automation Week who can help answer questions about the standards and practices of ICS security as well.
  3. Stay vigilant and trust your instincts.  You know what you know. If you see something…say something.

Okay, autopros*, I’m outta here.  Actually, I have to go home and install a new anti-virus program on my laptop.  It’s been a while.  And you know how I feel – I take it personally.

*autopros = automation professionals … remember?

Carol Schafer

About the Author
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.
ISA technical publications excel in advancing automation industry knowledge

ISA technical publications excel in advancing automation industry knowledge

This post is authored by Terrence G. Ives, president of ISA 2013.

ISA’s reputation for providing automation professionals with the highest quality, unbiased technical information continues to grow.

Just a few days ago, in late June, the 2013 Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR), a highly recognized quantitative ranking and comparison of professional journals, announced that ISA Transactions: The Journal of Automation earned its highest rating ever in a key measurement of content quality and value.

The JCR’s Impact Factor measures the importance of journals by calculating the number of times their articles are cited. The 2013 release of the JCR reflects a systematic analysis of nearly 11,000 journal listings in 232 disciplines throughout more than 80 countries across the globe.Silver Cup

This year, the JCR rated ISA Transactions 46 percent higher on the Impact Factor scale than the previous year. And among all professional journals relating to instrumentation, control, and automation, ISA’s journal earned the highest five-year rate of increase in the JCR rankings.

These outstanding results drive home the fact that leading industrial practitioners and applied researchers in the field of process instrumentation, systems, measurement, and automation depend on ISA Transactions for highly credible technical information and research data. It also demonstrates to everyone in the automation community and publications industry what everyone here at ISA already knows – that ISA Transactions is on par with the very finest professional journals in the world.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize Editor-in-Chief Ahmad Rad, Ph.D., his talented group of volunteer editors and editorial board members, and the many contributing authors and reviewers who are responsible for developing such a top-quality, well-regarded publication.

ISA members can access the online version of ISA Transactions at no cost, and can subscribe to the print version for $99. ISA also offers subscription options for non-members and institutions.

Sometimes, it’s easy to take for granted all the great work that goes into ISA Transactions and ISA’s other bimonthly publication, InTech magazine, because they consistently furnish excellent content every two months. It’s important to pause and recognize the efforts and hard work that go into each edition.

ISA Transactions  Impact Factor 2012

ISA Transactions Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports Impact Factor for 2000 to 2012

InTech is a key element in ISA’s vision as it provides thought-provoking and authoritative coverage of automation technologies, applications, and strategies to enhance automation professionals’ on-the-job success. InTech staff work in concert with thousands of ISA members, customers, and subject-matter experts from established and emerging industries to explore and report on the entire automation field.

Recently, we asked InTech readers if they could only receive one automation publication, which one would it be. More than 62 percent selected InTech as their automation resource of choice.

InTech is distributed free to all ISA members. Certain qualified automation professionals may receive InTech through application.

I encourage ISA members and all automation professionals to share your knowledge and help others by writing an InTech article. Your insights and experience can save your automation and control colleagues a great deal of frustration, time, and effort.

You also become a valuable link in the chain of knowledge that moves the automation profession forward. Please send your ideas and proposals for articles to article_submit@intecheditor.org.

Moving forward, please take the time to read and fully appreciate your next issues of ISA Transactions and InTech magazine. They both exemplify the very best of ISA and its service to the automation profession.

About the AuthorTerrence G. Ives
Terrence G. Ives is the third-generation president and owner of Ives Equipment Corporation in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a process control manufacturing representative and stocking distributor. Terry has been actively involved in ISA leadership for many years. He has held numerous positions at the local and Society level including Society Treasurer, Executive Board Parliamentarian, Finance Committee Chair, Investment Committee Chair, District 2 Vice President, and Philadelphia Section President and Exhibit Chairman. He received a bachelor of science degree in industrial systems engineering from Ohio University.
ISA technical symposia successes and spreading the word about ISA Automation Week 2013

ISA technical symposia successes and spreading the word about ISA Automation Week 2013

This post is authored by Terrence G. Ives, president of ISA 2013.

While summer is just now warming up, ISA’s season of conferences and events is well on its way to another sizzling success.

To date, ISA has conducted five of the seven technical division symposia scheduled for the year: the 58th Analysis Business Meeting, outsideDivision Symposium in April; the 59th International Instrumentation Symposium and MFPT 2013 in mid-May; the 13th ISA LDAR-Fugitive Emissions Symposium, also in mid-May; the 2013 Communications Division Symposium in late May; and the 56th Power Industry (POWID) Division Symposium this last week.

The two upcoming events are the 2013 ISA Water/Wastewater and Automatic Controls Symposium, which will be held 6-8 August in Orlando; and the 8th ISA Marketing and Sales Summit, which will be held 11-13 September in New Orleans.

And, of course, ISA wraps up its major events in 2013 with ISA Automation Week 2013 – the showcase technology and solutions event for automation and control professionals – 5-7 November in Nashville.

Here is a quick recap of the five ISA symposia held to date:

  • Nearly 400 attendees and more than 60 exhibitors gathered at ISA’s 58th Analysis Division Symposium. This year, 12 technical sessions and 35 technical papers covered leading-edge topics in sampling, chromatography, spectroscopy, chemiluminescence and other analytical techniques
  • ISA’s joint conference with the Machinery Failure Prevention Technology (MFPT) Society – the 59th International Instrumentation and MFPT 2013 – attracted more than 200 attendees to learn about the latest advances in instrumentation and mechanical failure prevention, and to consider synergies between the two professional associations. In total, more than 120 technical papers and presentations were delivered, 58 through ISA and 62 through MFPS.
  • More than 200 professionals responsible for maintaining leak detection and repair programs and reducing air emissions attended ISA’s annual Fugitive Emissions-LDAR Symposium. A highlight of the conference was a panel discussion involving EPA regulatory officials and LDAR experts. Attendees came away knowing what they need to do to comply with regulations, and how to implement best practices.
  • ISA’s 2013 Communications Division Symposium was highlighted by the Society’s third workshop on passive wireless sensor technologies, and an examination of the new trends, equipment, software and protocols involved with transmitting, reporting and processing real-time data. On hand were a stellar group of industrial communications experts who helped attendees sort out the maze of communications-related changes and challenges occurring in the marketplace.
  • Attendees at ISA’s 56th POWID Symposium, conducted recently in Orlando, received updates on cybersecurity, regulatory changes, and other power-generation challenges. Sessions showcased the latest news in nuclear, fossil fuel, and renewable energy, and explored the type of regulations that may implemented under the new Congress and second-term president.

To those who attended our five technical division symposia to date, I sincerely thank you for your participation. By being involved – either as a general attendee, presenter, organizer, or other contributor – you’re part of the effort that keeps ISA active, engaging, and alive with new ideas and perspectives.

ISA is committed to offering technical symposia brimming with high-value, expert-driven technical content. It’s part of our tradition and a core competency that sets us apart. Some of our technical conferences – notably those sponsored by ISA’s Analysis, International Instrumentation, and Power Industry divisions–have been held for more than 50 years. And I believe we’re just getting started.

Automation Week 2013Looking ahead, I encourage ISA members to spread the word about our two remaining symposia, and Automation Week 2013.

The 2013 ISA Water/Wastewater and Automatic Controls Symposium offers a unique opportunity for automation, instrumentation and SCADA professionals in the water and wastewater sectors to share ideas, network and earn continuing education credits. The event includes two full days of technical speakers/presentations, networking events, a poster session, and a supplier showcase. A tour of a local water treatment facility, and two short courses on SCADA cybersecurity and flow meter section/sizing are optional. More information is available at www.isawwsymposium.com.

For marketing and sales professionals targeting the automation marketplace, the 8th ISA Marketing and Sales Summit is the event to attend. This year’s summit focuses on the new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking needed to succeed in the fast-changing automation marketplace. Key topic areas include: best practices in social media, guerilla marketing, brand marketing, market-driven product development, winning complex accounts, business development, and advertising in the digital age. Early bird registration is now open at www.marketingsalessummit.com.

This year’s ISA Automation Week event will be particularly thought-provoking and meaningful as it is designed to demonstrate how to fully leverage the power and potential of automation solutions. The conference is built on the premise that decisions in one organizational area can have significant, sometimes counteractive, effects in others, and that the key lies in addressing core operational needs – in safety, people, business, and technology – in a more proactive, farsighted, and integrated manner.

Please, join me in getting the word out loud and clear that this is a can’t-miss event. And emphasize that all attendees can save $150 by registering by 20 August 2013. For more information about ISA Automation Week 2013, visit www.isaautomationweek.org.

To date, 2013 has been a strong year for ISA events. Let’s make sure we end the year on an even stronger note. As always, thanks for all that you do to contribute to and support ISA.

About the AuthorTerrence G. Ives
Terrence G. Ives is the third-generation president and owner of Ives Equipment Corporation in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a process control manufacturing representative and stocking distributor. Terry has been actively involved in ISA leadership for many years. He has held numerous positions at the local and Society level including Society Treasurer, Executive Board Parliamentarian, Finance Committee Chair, Investment Committee Chair, District 2 Vice President, and Philadelphia Section President and Exhibit Chairman. He received a bachelor of science degree in industrial systems engineering from Ohio University.
Need Automation Workers?  Who You Gonna Call?

Need Automation Workers? Who You Gonna Call?

This recurring blog covers news about ISA Automation Week: Technology and Solutions Event from the unique viewpoint of the event’s project manager, Carol Schafer.  With a technical background to draw on, a penchant for humor and the inside track on conference updates, Carol informs and entertains with messages that are always illuminating and often downright funny.

Everybody’s talking about the lack of qualified automation professionals – “autopros” as I have referred to these fine folks in previous blogs – to meet the needs of process manufacturers starving for employees. Everybody’s talking about it, but some are doing something about it.  Here at ISA, we do both.  Talking is my forte (ask around), and every good idea necessarily starts with talking.  But putting programs and resources in place to increase the numbers of engineers and control panel in factorytechnicians coming into the workforce takes some doing.  If you’re entering the workforce, or you are already an autopro (love that word), you’re either being groomed to join us (resistance is futile), or you may be helping someone else prepare to join us.  To maintain profitability, quality, and the sustainability of process manufacturers, we all need to pitch in.

ISA, as the professional society for autopros, is very involved in getting students interested in manufacturing and engineering careers, and in helping provide the necessary mentors to assist those entering the industrial workforce increase their relevancy, expertise, and knowledge earlier than they could otherwise.

What does this have to do with you?  I’ll give you three answers to this question toward the bottom of this blog.  But don’t skip down there now, or they won’t make any sense. (Yes, they will, I just want you to read the whole article so you don’t miss any of the great stuff in the middle.)

So what does one need to know, or be prepared for, upon entering the automation profession?  Sure, you need technical knowledge and you can get some of that in school, but here’s my personal take on the subject – not to be confused with actual advice or counsel:

  1. Accept that none of your friends will “get” what you do – even if you explain it.
    When I had to tell people I sold “instruments” or worked in instrumentation and controls, they would usually ask “Like…guitars and stuff?”  “Uh…nnooo…never mind.”  I mean, you can try to explain… “So, listen, what I do is I tune the control loop which has to be done with instruments that have to be calibrated to within the right tolerance, and then we watch the batch recipe and we watch the EPA emissions because the stack has to be within a certain percentage of the…”  By now, you pals are staring into space or are already off talking to someone else anyway.  My advice?  Just tell them “It’s an autopro thing – you wouldn’t understand.”  Then be secretly excited that you are an insider in a profession so cool that it defies explanation!
  2. No education program will prepare you for entering your first automation and controls job – and much of what you learn will never be used.
    I’m not saying you don’t need college or a degree.  College is useful for a variety of things…but I digress.  Once you’re out of school and into your first automation job, you’ll find yourself relying on mentors and co-workers who are willing to share their intimate knowledge of the plant’s processes with you.  When the flow rate won’t stabilize, you won’t be able to “Google it” because installations are all unique.  You’ll need someone to let you in on the particulars of the system, its history, upgrades, and peculiarities – even its personality.  If you don’t think control systems can have personalities, consider Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Somebody’s got to get control of these systems – save humanity!
  3. Realize that – fresh out of school – you still won’t have enough training.
    You’ll need specialized training from your employer – and perhaps additional training from an organization like ISA in order to avoid the common mistakes made by engineers leaving school with a head full of calculus that they’ll likely never be asked to use on the job.
  4. Be prepared to find out that the breadth and types of knowledge you need is vast – and can’t be obtained overnight.  Figure out early how to align yourself with others – such as fellow members in a professional society like ISA – who can help you grow and learn.  Ask them what training they have taken and what they recommend.  Ask them how membership in a professional society has helped them learn and grow in their profession so that they move forward and feel enthused, in control (no pun intended) and not just another pretty face around the control panel.
  5. You will belong.  If you are an individual thinker, a thoughtful problem-solver, a deductive, reasoned person, you belong here.  If, like me, you were the one to take apart electronic devices around the house and “fix” them when you were a kid – you’re going to love this profession. And you’ll be around others who “understand” you.  Speaking from a lifetime spent around engineers, technicians and autopros – it’s an addictive, and exciting career choice.

There are lots of ways to participate and to belong.  Check this out:

The ISA Mentor Program can be a key to your success or a platform for you to share what you know.  For students in the ISA Mentor Program during 2011, ISA Automation Week 2012 was a game-changer.  Their expectations about the conference were dramatically changed when they realized they were going to learn from and network with the best in the business.  Greg McMillan, respected autopro, author, and expert in the field is a key mentor in this program, along with Hunter Vegas and other volunteers who give of themselves for the next generation.   NOTE:  Greg McMillan will host a tutorial on the ISA Mentor Program within the Industrial Automation & Controls education track at ISA Automation Week 2013.  Come and meet Greg and see how the program has impacted its mentees over the past two years

Automation Week 2013ISA student memberships are available. They are cheap ($10 – can you believe that?) and we work hard to integrate them into the automation community.  We’ll talk about student sections, how you can get involved, what their value is to the business and to the technical side of automation at ISA Automation Week as well.

By now, I bet you just can’t wait to get to Nashville and the ISA Automation Week 2013 conference.  I can’t either.  Let’s meet in Nashville.  Let’s get this thing rolling, and learn how to help take responsibility for the sustainability of our industrial workforce.  It’s going to help us, and it’s going to help the industry (whichever category you fall in, let’s reverse the shortage of qualified automation professionals.)

 

Carol Schafer

About the Author
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.

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