8 Facts About Automation Control Specialists
Implementing automated processes can be challenging for the food and beverage industry. Unlike other materials that are more predictable in characteristics (like metals used in car manufacturing), foods come in different shapes, sizes and compositions.
However, now more than ever the food industry is adopting new technologies and manufacturers need professionals who can support and lead these changes. The professionals who lead this charge are automation control specialists and help get companies moving toward the future of automation!
1. Automation Control Specialists install and maintain automation systems
Automation Control Specialists (ACS) who work in the food processing industry help companies to automate their manufacturing processes. They act as experts within the food facilities in the areas of controls, programmable language controls (PLCs) and automation. Typically associated with the maintenance teams they will maintain and repair conveyor belt systems, automation systems and other facilities equipment.
Some common types of automation equipment that are present in a food facility include:
- Automated ovens
- Filling equipment
- Forming Machines
- Wrapping Devices
ACSs also troubleshoot and back up all PLCs, including common issues such as module failure, electrical noise interference, corrupted memory, power problems, and communication issues. Because these systems are automated, they must perform backup and disaster recovery plans for manufacturing facilities. That way if there were to be an issue at facilities, they could recover their data. Outside vendors produce automated equipment used in processing facilities off-site; therefore, ACSs will have to contact them for technical support, installation, configuration, and troubleshooting help when a problem occurs.
Overall, automation technical specialists will acquire more knowledge over time, enabling them to work effectively with other maintenance personnel, troubleshoot equipment together, and train other technicians and production staff who may need assistance learning how to operate manufacturing processes.
2. Automation Electrical Engineers know how to program programmable controllers
Knowing how to program in multiple languages is essential for automation electrical engineers. It’s a core competency that they need to complete their jobs! Automation engineers create and modify programming in plant automation systems known as programmable language controls (PLCs). PLCs are small computers that can receive data through their inputs and send operating instructions through outputs. For example, PLCs can be used to monitor the temperature of an oven as it runs. The goal often is to create easy-to-use Human-Machine Interfaces (HMI) that production workers can use. The most common manufacturing equipment used in food processing plants includes Allen Bradley, Siemens, Omron, Modicon and Bckoff systems.
3. Automation Controls Specialists troubleshoot and backup all PLCs
As part of the maintenance team, ACSs help food processing facilities resolve maintenance issues. A troubleshooting issue occurs when something unexpected happens unexpectedly. Some of the most common problems an ACS will face with PLCs include:
- Module failure of the input/output (I/O) System
- Electrical Noise Interference
- Power Problem
- Communication Issues
Each of these problems poses challenges when trying to resolve the issue. However, automation control specialists generally follow the standard steps of troubleshooting which are:
- Identify the problem
- Gather the data
- Analyze the data
- Develop solutions
- Implement the solution
- Test the solution
Additionally, ACSs may perform troubleshooting such as supporting a backup and disaster recovery plan for all plant Control and Automation systems.
4. Automation Control Specialists have degrees in automation
To become an Automation Controls Specialist in the food industry, candidates typically hold a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Electrical/Controls Engineering or Electromechanical Engineering Technician. Alternatively, a relevant college diploma in Robotics Engineering or Automation can also be considered. While attending school, we encourage you to seek internships or co-op opportunities in food manufacturing facilities or automation companies. These experiences offer practical insights into the industry, enabling you to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.
5. Automation Control Specialists work with outside vendors
Most of the equipment utilized in food processing facilities is made in outside facilities by companies whose primary function is to make processing equipment for different manufacturing companies. Therefore, when equipment runs into problems, automation control specialists must contact manufacturers to ensure everything is completed. Automation electrical engineers may contact vendors for technical support such as the installation, configuration and troubleshooting.
Additionally, many automation engineers acquire and negotiate new manufacturing equipment. Their specialized knowledge of PLCs helps manufacturers ensure that the latest equipment and automation meet their needs. If it is a custom-made piece of equipment, they may even collaborate on the design and programming of such equipment.
Once the facility approves and purchases the equipment, they will assist in its installation, ensuring it is installed correctly. During this time, they will work with the vendor to provide feedback on the product’s performance, reliability and suitability.
6. Automation Control Specialists communicate knowledge to others
Effective communication is essential for an automation electrical engineer. They need to convey technical information to colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. These pieces of information could take on writing technical reports, presenting project updates, and explaining complex concepts in a way that non-technical individuals easily understand. For example, as mentioned earlier, ACSs acquire new equipment. They need to consider the different alternatives for machinery, automation and layout, and they also need to know how to explain these differences to various stakeholders.
7. Automation Control Specialists act as technical specialists
The longer an ACS works their job, the more knowledge they will acquire and the more technical of a specialist they will become. This specialized knowledge allows them to work effectively with other maintenance personnel and helps them to troubleshoot equipment together. They also use this knowledge to train lower-level technicians and production staff who may need assistance learning how to operate manufacturing equipment. Automation control specialists will read and learn about new advances in their field to build up their technical skills.
8. Automation Control Specialists are adaptable, organized and have an eye for detail
As with any occupation, there are certain sets of skills which will aid you better than others. For a automation control specialist, these skills include:
- Adaptability: The automation field constantly evolves with new technologies and methodologies. Equipment in the food industry is becoming more equipped with sensors, cameras and the ability for deep learning. Automation electrical engineers must be adaptable, open to change and willing to learn and adapt to new technologies to improve their technical toolboxes!
- Organization: Food facilities are fast-moving facilities with multiple projects simultaneously. To keep up with this pace automation controls specialists need to effectively manage their time and keep track of project documentation, schedules, and resources. Many automation technicians will be working on one project at a time and multiple ones simultaneously!
- Attention to detail: Precision is paramount in automation as even minor errors can lead to incorrectly made products. If a PLC is programmed poorly, it could mean products being cooked too long or even the wrong shape! Controls pay close attention to the details and will triple-check their work before stamping approval.