#pAutomator: Stephen Puryear, Pharma Calibration Subject Matter Expert

We spoke recently to Stephen Puryear, currently working as a Field Engineer at California, for our #pAutomator today. Puryear has been a calibration technician for 10 years and has branched out into Calibration and Asset Management support activities, doing Bill of Material work.

Currently, Puryear has been working on videos in the field of Calibration and Measurement Science that deals with a series on estimating measurement uncertainty. In this interaction, he discusses his viewpoints around the transformation of the Instrumentation industry. 

 If you have a similar story you’d like to share, write to us and we’ll get in touch! Excerpts from the interview…

You went from working in the Colgate soap factory to a field engineer in your current company. Looking back, how do you describe your journey?

I had been working in a Colgate soap factory as an hourly labourer in the early ’80s when the plant closed down. We were their 106th plant in the world, and they decided that they could squeak by with 105 plants. I then returned to school to get a two-year degree in electronic technology.

I became technical by getting an 18 month EET qualification through Heald College in San Francisco. This turned out to be a great start and well worth the money.  I gradually migrated into start-up biotechs and then Big Pharma, while I deepened my experience with all aspects of calibration.

Image of #pAutomator: Stephen Puryear
Image of #pAutomator: Stephen Puryear

After a decade of monthly calibrations, I combined an Engineer In Training (EIT) license with two ASQ certifications, and a few years later, an MBA.  This began my fascination with Measurement Uncertainty, which has continued to grow into an avocation.

I am currently in the middle of a series of videos on this topic and really enjoying it, even though it’s a lot of work. I guess that I was drawn by this topic even before I could put a name on it.  Measurements are pretty fundamental, are they not?

Hardships and failure act as a major stepping stone in many careers. Do you have any experience of this? Or any peaks you’d like the share?

This sector is quite volatile, and I have been through several periods of layoffs and disruption.  I have learned that instead of praying for those who lose their jobs under these conditions, it’s better to pray for the survivors. I am also still very proud of my engineering license.

It’s usually true that graduating seniors in college engineering programs consider taking this test but don’t all pass easily.  My undergraduate college degree was in History, however. I studied really hard for the exam because I was terrified of having to take it twice!

Since your start in the Industrial Instrumentation industry, how do you see its transformation?

I have been somewhat sheltered from the industry’s evolution because the pharma sector is actually quite retarded in this aspect. Even attempts by the FDA to encourage modernization have gotten almost no traction.  At the same time, I remain generally optimistic. Why else waste time making videos?

Image of #pAutomator: Stephen Puryear self calibrated probe
Image courtesy of enviropro.co.uk

There are some very exciting developments on the horizon. Two recent examples are the advent of self-calibrating temperature sensors and the generation of very large process data sets. These elements hold a lot of potentials.

What are the major challenges in your industry in terms of logistics, technology up-gradation, technical specs, configuration and integration, etc?

The industry is extremely profitable for the big players with almost no direct competition. The sector is also very risk averse, so the risk management is not comprehensive.  Sometimes this is appropriate, but not as an automatic reaction. No industry leader honestly invites competition until it cannot be avoided.

The pharma industry people are very smart. The systems within which they must work are certainly not. There are lots of silos and there is no discussion of “measurement uncertainty” whatsoever, even as the industry uses the phrase “risk management” on a daily basis.

Image of #pAutomator: Stephen Puryear pharma industry
Image courtesy of siemens.com

I am sceptical that we can have one without the other in any real sense. So we are not currently able to take up those challenges listed above. We are quite a bit more likely to run to obsolescence.

Speaking about e-commerce in the Instrumentation industry, what are your views on shopping online? What are the challenges and advantages you see here?

I have not personally been able to practice it directly.  But I do know that the fundamental things still apply: Some vendors are great and some are not. Great vendors are usually able to transfer that attribute to any new platform.

So, the nature of the pipeline I am using is secondary to the question of whether I can locate a reliable resource within any vendors structure.  Once I have that, most of my problems become pretty simple.

Moving ahead, how do you see the future of this industry evolving? Any suggestions for the next generation of engineers?

Virtualization will continue to penetrate new places.  The huge leap to IoT is going to be made in some very tiny steps, each of which may need some engineering overview, so come on in!  The powerful and very useful things in the phrase “Big Data” will reveal themselves. China and India will either fit themselves under the tent or set up their own.

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