Real World Engineering

This is a blog from the trenches—written by engineers at Maverick Technologies who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry. This isn’t what they teach you in engineering school. These are lessons learned from years on the job, encountering the obstacles and issues that are part of the real world of control and process engineering.

Real World Engineering

Having the right tools in your arsenal

Everyone starts out green, but getting a handle on a few important resources will move you to the experienced side much faster.

February 05, 2013


Have you ever been on a project where everything went as planned? If you’re like me, the answer is no. I would like to say yes, but who would I be kidding? Issues can vary from bad wiring, incorrect instrumentation calibration, wrong equipment specified or delivered, equipment installed in the wrong place, poor documentation, communication issues, seized motors, and so on. That’s a list that doesn’t end. Devoting enough up-front time on a project will minimize surprises during commissioning, but as much as one plans and prepares for a project, there are always issues, and those issues will need to be resolved by you. Having the right tools in your arsenal will make all the difference in finding the best solution quickly. Tools are not limited to screwdrivers, serial cables, or multimeters. Tools include experience, resources, and having the right positive attitude.

I think we can all agree that experience goes a long way in any industry. A good education can definitely help you refine and polish your capability to tackle tasks thrown your way, but the school of hard knocks is really where experience grows greatly. I’m sure we can share different experiences and reflect back on how green we were when we began our careers in automation. Over time, by researching, troubleshooting, dealing with different platforms, working with a variety of products, and trial and error, we gain experience, learn, and grow.

There is a vast variety of automation solutions out there, with new solutions being created and others becoming extinct. I’ve been working in automation for several years now, and I have been dubbed an expert on certain things, but I still consider myself a student. I work alongside others who are my unofficial mentors. It’s astonishing some of the stuff they just know, stuff they have picked up over the years, but as much as they might deny it, they were all green once too.

This leads to one of the other tools I mentioned earlier: resources. Resources take many forms: manuals, training materials, software, tech support, and others, but a great resource is a seasoned engineer. Having a pool of seasoned engineers in your corner during a project that seems more like a boxing match is a great advantage when you need to kick some automation…well, you know what. Most engineers are willing to share what they know, formally or in passing conversations. I myself do not hesitate in passing on what I know if someone asks, but be warned that I tend to ramble and branch off on tangents.

The last tool that I want to share is attitude. I believe that having the right attitude can open doors, launch your career forward, and give you much self reward. Having the right attitude helps motivate you and others around you. Having a positive attitude in your professional and private life is just a good practice in general. With the right attitude, you don’t look at a problem, give up, and pass the buck – you tackle that problem head on.

I don’t think anyone expects an individual to know everything there is to know about automation, but with the right tools, a challenge can and will get figured out. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as integrators, the same challenges that cause us stress and long hours are also what motivate us to do what we do.

This post was written by Miguel Gutierrez, a senior control system specialist at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.