How can I learn process automation ?
Oh, how I wish someone had answered this question for me when I was younger! It would have made my life so much easier.
In this day and age, you can find information about career paths, courses to take, and online resources to learn certain skills with the click of a few buttons. However, it wasn’t always this easy. So before we jump into all the possibilities for learning process automation, shall I tell you a story? Great! Settle in and pay attention, kids.
What to learn?
Once upon a time in Brazil, there lived a kid who loved technology and automation – even though he didn’t know what those words meant. This kid watched robot cartoons and always wanted to know how things worked, especially automatic things.
At seven years old, he promised his two grandmas that when he grew up, he’d build a maid-robot so they wouldn’t have to clean the house anymore. That kid became a teenager who still dreamed of building a robot. Now in high school, he knew that if he wanted to pursue this dream, then he had to decide what to study.
He started researching, but his research didn’t help much, because he found that many paths can lead to the same destination. Some sources stated that you had to study mechanical engineering to build a robot, others, electrical engineering. Some even suggested becoming a software engineer! All these ideas overwhelmed this poor kid.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, that kid was me. I remember applying to a different course at each university in my city, hoping that one would accept me so I could start studying, like fate would choose for me.
Well, fate had the last laugh. Most of them accepted me, so what I hoped would make my choice just made it more difficult. In the end, I chose mechatronics. It seemed like the most complete set of skills to learn if I wanted to build that robot. Later, I’d realize that any of my choices could’ve gotten me there.
So here I am today to make your life easier if you want to become an automation engineer but don’t know what to study. Enough story time. Let’s jump into it!
University courses vary from country to country. Brazil has an automation and control engineering program, but as far as I know, you won’t find that in the U.S. or Canada. If someone knows otherwise, then drop me a line and fill me in.
One thing is certain. You’ll need to study some sort of engineering. The most common are mechanical or electrical/electronic. Software or computer science are also viable options. Regardless of which you choose, any of these will focus your efforts towards automation.
If you study mechanical engineering, then you’ll know the physics behind measuring devices and have a good grasp of fluid mechanics and heat transfer, all of which will help you understand the process itself.
If you choose electrical/electronic engineering, then you’ll get more familiar with wiring, grounding, and connections between the control unit and the measuring devices.
And if you decide to go with software engineering or computer science,then your new programming knowledge will support you on the control end of the system.
As I mentioned before, different countries and even different schools will have different options for you to choose from and learn process automation. In the end, what you decide to focus your studies on matters more than what course you choose. Therefore, if you know what an automation engineer does, or should do, you can focus on developing the skills needed to become one.
Technical schools/associated degrees
You don’t have to get a university degree to learn process automation. In fact, you can learn process automation without ever stepping into a university. Different countries have different names for this approach.
In Brazil, we call it technical school, and you attend for two years to learn a specific career. There you have the option to start this education while still in high school or afterward. If you do it while in high school, then you can get a head start at any university.
In Germany, they call it Ausbildung, which is also a technical study of a certain field of expertise. Here you even have a mandatory Praktikum (internship) where you can work and study right after school.
In the U.S. technical schools are slightly different. The associate degree gives you two years of study, but it comes from a university or college rather than a technical school.
Just like the bachelor’s degree, you have several options, and they vary depending on where you live. Take our expert, Fabricio, for example. He started his career at an instrumentation technical school.
Additional courses and certifications
Besides your main studies, you can also take extra courses and certifications. Here you have a wide variety of narrow fields. These paths offer specialization in certain areas of process automation.
ISA, the International Association of Automation, for example, offers training on communications, control systems, cybersecurity, plant maintenance, and safety.
When it comes to field communication, the Profibus and Profinet International (PI) organization also provides training in installation, commissioning, and maintenance of fieldbus networks.
And if you want to know more about control systems and programming, Rockwell Automation provides useful courses, such as function block programming and motion control fundamentals.
These courses and others can give you a deeper knowledge of a specific topic and set you apart from other professionals in the market.
As I said, many paths will take you to learn process automation. The choice, in the end, will come down to your affinity with a certain area of the process automation world.
If you enjoy the whole control system bit, with all the programming behind all the system, computer science would suit you. On the other hand, if you prefer the physics behind the process, you may like mechanical engineering. And on the third hand, if you like electronics, you’ll dig the electrical/electronic engineering route.
Regardless of what you choose, always look for internships, additional training, and projects related to your interest, and you will most definitely become a process automation expert.