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I am an Industrial Automation engineer, Ask Me Anything!

thefern profile image Fernando B πŸš€ ・Updated on ・1 min read

I've worked with Siemens, and Rockwell Automation controllers(10+ years).
Not sure how many PLC techs or automation engineers frequent dev.to but ask me anything.

I've worked mainly in the oil, and gas industry for one of the biggest OEM worldwide. Now I work for another big OEM/operator in the land rigs area. As far as the automation type this is heavy equipment, so yeah lots of moving parts, hydraulics, pneumatics, tons of IO sensors. Full time job for OEM.

Before working in the oil and field, I've worked briefly in food manufacturing, and plastipack packaging. All, in all a little bit of everything conveyors, sorting, etc.

I also spent 4 years in the Navy as an Interior Comms Tech, in Norfolk, VA.

Note: If you want to learn about programming plc's, I suggest you install CodeSys it is free and IEC compliant with hundreds of manufacturers. In addition you can simulate programs without needing hardware. Also codesys support raspberry pi.

Edit 1: As per Blaine's comment.
Edit 2: Added CodeSys information.

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_targz_ profile image
Anes Hasicic

Hi,

I am a software engineer, spend most of my time working on web application backends (C# and Go mostly), but was always interested in embedded systems (which I have some experience with) and industrial automation but I never took a step and stayed in my comfort zone...

Anyway, how hard is it for a software engineer to transition to industrial automation field (plc programming) since I have no formal education in electrical engineering?

I was looking at this learn.realpars.com/browse site and it seems like a good place to start.

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hi Anes, I honestly don't know how hard the transition would be since everyone is slightly different. I came from Electronics/Electricity technical Naval training, and sorta worked my way in industrial automation after I left the Navy. I can tell you everything I know is self-taught, so I would think someone with backend experience would learn PLC programming pretty quick, since you already have a good background. Industrial Automation is different depending on the company and PLC brand used, but system design is pretty standard across the board. Back then where DRY was not the standard. Nowadays you have almost full blown OOP practices within Siemens and Allen Bradley and most other big manufacturers software packages "IDEs".

Electric engineering is not strictly necessary but it is useful especially when dealing with the IO field devices, and other things like calibrations, pid tuning etc, but as you find out more about your job these are thing that are easy to learn.

Free resources:

Realpars looks ok, but honestly Siemens has pretty good information online and free for most of their stuff. Allen Bradley is another story. In the end I would say if you have the cash for it get you a S7-1200 plc, and install TIA Portal on a VM if you can get your hands on I think it has a 14 day trial if I am not mistaken but don't quote me on that lol. Then you can program and play around with that at your own pace maybe even do a small project around the house with it.

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_targz_ profile image
Anes Hasicic

Great, thanks, that basically confirms what I was thinking.

If not s7-1200, don't know if s7 300 would also be an option (don't know if tia portal works with those) ?

Thanks for the book I did see it in the comments and as for Realpars, I agree that there are probably free resources out there, but I would be willing to pay for a structured approach (like Realpars offers) since I have no idea where to start...

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

300s are a bit more expensive but yeah that model works with both simatic manager which is the old software, and tia.

Also forgot to mention not sure where you based out of, but Allen Bradley has a larger market share in the US, I personally like Siemens more I've used both throughout my career. Just something to think about when searching for a job.

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_targz_ profile image
Anes Hasicic

I'm from Europe so Siemens is a lot better choice probably. I was under impression that 300s were cheaper ones, didn't do my research obviously XD

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

You might be able to find used ones for a good price, new 300s are around $1200+, the S7-1200 are a couple hundred bucks and is basically a modular brick only problem with the new S7 models is that you need Tia. I think the ethernet ones are a little more expensive but still nowhere near a full 300s price. The 1500 and 400 are the backplane type, larger and a heck of lot more expensive.

In the beginning I would just try to find a trial version of step7, and plcsim install on a VM and make sure to take a snapshot to revert back, save your programs on a shared folder :) on the host machine. You can do quite a lot in the programming side. And codesys also is free with a simulator, the iec programming is close to siemens so a lot can be carried over if you choose codesys.

Anyways good luck in your endevour! Sorry for the overload of information lol.

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_targz_ profile image
Anes Hasicic

Oh, no need to apologize, I crave for information XD Thanks

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cosmic profile image
JC5

Beckhoff PLC are codesys based and fully compliant etc.
It is programmed in MS Visual Studio and supports writing in c#. Much easier for someone from a CompSci background to get into modern controls. Natively supports vision now too. Tis the future...
(...writing this after battling with Twincat all day...)

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shekharsewratan79 profile image
ShekharSewratan79

Hi,

You guys still available for support regarding Automation? I have just started working as automation engineer in an oil and gas refinery. Have some questions.

Thanks.

Regards,

Sewratan Shekhar...

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hey there shoot your questions I'll try to answer what I can.

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shekharsewratan79 profile image
ShekharSewratan79

Hi Fernando,

Thanks for the quick response.
So our DCS system is having a couple of alarms which I don't know how to solve.
This is the description: "CONTROLLER 108 DIAGNOSTIC". Do you probably know what needs to be done in order to remove this alarm from the list? Everything in the system if fine, shows healthy but even though I have this alarm.

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Much appreciated.

Thanks.

Regards,

Sewratan Shekhar...

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

This isn't a support channel, this is just a post about automation as a career, I'd recommend you go to plctalk.net/qanda/ when you sign up on plctalk make sure you are a bit more descriptive with your questions, equipment model, etc. Good luck!

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Once you post your question there send me the link and if I know something I'll add my comments there.

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bosepchuk profile image
Blaine Osepchuk

This is a great topic. Thanks for doing this. "Industrial automation engineer" is pretty broad.

Can you give us a little more detail on the kinds of automation you've worked on? Counting things? Moving things? Robots? Quality control? Packaging? Manufacturing? Etc?

And maybe some idea of the industries you've worked in? Automating a greenhouse is probably quite different than automating a semi conductor fab.

Finally, are you an independent contractor brought on just to install some automation? Or do you work for a company that exclusively does industrial automation for their clients? Or do you work for GM or something where automation for your employer is your full-time job?

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hey Blaine thanks for the suggestions, sorry pretty new at this ama thing. I'll edit the post with some more information.

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bosepchuk profile image
Blaine Osepchuk

Cool. Thanks for the background info. My guess that most people on dev.to are web programmers of some flavor. We sit at our keyboards and churn out code in our offices.

Can you give us a feel for what your job is like? Field work? On a team? Do you do the same automation project over and over on the same equipment at different sites? Or are your projects mostly one-offs?

Does the client come to you with the target for automation or does your company help clients choose high valve projects? Are the automation projects designed to reduce manpower? Increase monitoring/data gathering? Increase safety? Other?

How much of your job is programming vs other?

Lots of people (including me) play with Arduino microcontrollers, raspberry pi-like computers, sensors, actuators, etc. From that experience, would we have any concept of what you do or is your job a completely different kettle of fish?

Do your clients expect you to meet proper engineering practices and standards or is it a more craft-like environment like most programming?

What percentage of your time goes to new projects/installations vs maintenance and repair on existing stuff?

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Can you give us a feel for what your job is like? Field work? On a
team? Do you do the same automation project over and over on the same
equipment at different sites? Or are your projects mostly one-offs?

I did about 5 years field work, Install and Commissioning, and occasionally assist in major shutdown situations. Now I work in the office, though I kind of miss field work tbh. In the field, I would get a software package, install, and commission onsite. If there were any bugs, I would fix, document, and report back to office so it can be corrected in master copies. It would be different projects, and also one-offs. There would also be safety patches which were mandatory, and free for the customer.

Does the client come to you with the target for automation or does
your company help clients choose high valve projects? Are the
automation projects designed to reduce manpower? Increase
monitoring/data gathering? Increase safety? Other?

I am not involved in the design team, though I am in the process of making that transition in the next year or two, but meetings go pretty much like in any software project. There would be an initial call with the customer to discuss project requirements. Sometimes what the customer wants is just not feasible without making an astronomical system design change. So it is a give or take situation. Sometimes a customer wants an extra safety feature for their operators. Industrial automation is done for several reasons, easy to maintain, boost production, safety, ability to track performance, etc. In the end is all about performance, and safety.

How much of your job is programming vs other?

Lots of people (including me) play with Arduino microcontrollers,
raspberry pi-like computers, sensors, actuators, etc. From that
experience, would we have any concept of what you do or is your job a
completely different kettle of fish?

Yes, it is exactly the same. A PLC is essentially a controller just like arduino, but industrial controllers have passed certifications. And industrial sensors are built around 24VDC rather than 3.3 or 5VDC like arduino or pi, analogs sensors 4-20mA but yeah is the same jist. The main difference between microcontrollers, and PLCs is that PLCs are built with maintenance and electrical engineers in mind for ease of future troubleshooting. See below pic for one of the main programming languages based on relay logic drawings. That could be written in a few lines of high level language, but would look alien to maintenance personnel.

enter image description here

Do your clients expect you to meet proper engineering practices and
standards or is it a more craft-like environment like most
programming?

There are multiple entities for proper engineering practices. IEC 61131-3 for PLC code, and well for general electrical controls we have National Electrical Code (NEC).

What percentage of your time goes to new projects/installations vs
maintenance and repair on existing stuff?

A high percentage goes to new installations, one-off patches here and there. Not much maintenance as there are other teams that handle that.

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bosepchuk profile image
Blaine Osepchuk

Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

Is there a book you'd recommend if I wanted to learn a little more about what you do?

Maybe not a super technical book but just an overview of the field so I know what's out there? Industrial automation for dummies? An introduction to industrial automation for business decision makers? Something like that?

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Yes, thanks for the interesting questions as well.

This book has been the golden standard for introductions to the automation world. Incredibly enough not much has changed since its first draft, and since Rev5 the book still pretty good and up to date.

Is a free book with gnu license.
pacontrol.com/download/plcbook5_0.pdf

Cheers!

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

I've edited the article, but just so you know CodeSys IDE is free, if you want to poke around plc programming there are tons of tutorials on youtube, and you can simulate without hardware or you can even use a raspberry pi for an actual hardware project.

Though I have to say if you write in python, is probably not worth the hassle to use codesys unless you plan on interfacing with other things that are codesys compatible.

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andrumar10 profile image
Andrew Martin

Hey, thanks for sharing that book, it's a fantastic resource! I've been in the industrial automation field for about a year now, and I'm always on the hunt for new learning materials!

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

You're welcome. Which plc brands do you use?

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andrumar10 profile image
Andrew Martin

We've used Rockwell and in the past some Schneider Electric PLCs, though I hear rumors we have a European office that uses Siemens.

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cosmic profile image
JC5

Hi. Another industrial guy here. I am the 'software' part of an engineering team running maintenance and new equipment development in a manufacturing site making lamps and PSUs.
I am self taught and have found there are not many online communities or resources (excepting manufacturers sites) for us industrials.
My role includes programming PLCs and HMIs (human machine interfaces) of various flavours through to heavily VBA programmed Excel and Access tools for the office and shop floor, Raspis showing HMTL kiosks and throw in a little arduino code for various things.
Nice to see others out there!

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hi JC5 nice to see there are more of us lol. I actually tried finding out a good PLC community a while back and yes you are absolutely correct there are no communities, other than plctalk. The only sorta community I found was theautomationblog.com/share-your-k... but when I saw I couldn't share my article somewhere else I stop pursuing that site, also it looks cumbersome each article you have to go through a submission and approvals.

What I would recommend doing if you really want to have your own blog is to host a jekyll blog on github or if you just want to have it at your own hosting site. github.com/barryclark/jekyll-now in fact that's how I publish content here on dev, I publish at kodaman2.github.io/blog/ and sync here with a rss feed. Take a look here if you would like to do something like it dev.to/kodaman2/how-to-setup-a-jek... just disregard the rss feed part.

I might do another blog just for automation content, there so much I could share in regards with Siemens and AB just stting in my head lol.

Nice to see pi's and arduinos at work in an industrial environment!

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Have the Moby drivers gotten any easier to work with since ~2009? πŸ˜‚ It's probably mostly on me since getting a Moby-I talking to other software was my first and only C++ project, but I remember it being a bear.

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Thanks for the question Dian. I haven't had the pleasure to work with Moby-I hardware. If I understand correctly it is used for inductive object identification, correct? Only object id system I worked with was a sorter system but it was based on label scanning and then it would go through a curtain mainly to calculate the box size.

I think technologies have advanced a lot for inter communications. Have a link to the C++ library or its documentation or was that purchased?

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

Yeah, it's an RF tag reader. We were using it to track pallets carrying engine parts, but that was a few jobs ago. I don't have a link to any of the docs anymore unfortunately.

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aligear profile image
aligear

Hey there, I'm a Control Systems engineer, so I studied PLC's. Just a question: I just graduated and I'm wondering if I should focus on PLC's or not as a career choice. And thanks!

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hi, I wouldn't focus on PLC's necessarily that's just a tool to accomplish a task. Focus on which field you want to work, and make a difference. Do you have a field in mind?

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aligear profile image
aligear

Well I'm interested in autonomus systems since my studies were focused on control theory and instrumentation (I don't know if it's the correct translasion since I studied in French).

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Have you finished your thesis I would love to read it if you have a link? Unfortunately everything I learned was though training and self-development. I've been lucky to have work for great companies. After my naval service, I should have went to college but I just didn't have the time with family and all that.

Cheers!

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aligear profile image
aligear

Yes I did finish my thesis, my work consisted of an autonomous mobile manipulator, with a Kinect 2, it’s in french, I can send it to you, PM me.
Thanks for the feedback !

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JomanWalter

Hi, im writing a PLC program and in this program, I need to control the flow that's coming out of a tank between 3 to 5 mΒ³/h. This valve is on or off there is no in-between. How would I take this on? Should I use such Pneumatic Valves?

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Hi Joman, you'll need to implement a pid of some kind, and of course tune the loop for your application.

Have a look here engineering.stackexchange.com/q/23651

The output type doesn't matter if is a digital output. If you use proportional valve you'll certainly have a better response and less error, but for your task on/off valve should do fine.

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okinone89 profile image
okinone89

I’m an automation engineer too! In which fields did you work? I work mainly in the metals (steel and aluminum) and energy fields

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Just edited my post, but I work in the oil and gas sector. Cheers!

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okinone89 profile image
okinone89

Nice! Which platform do you mostly use?
Our customers are mainly switching to S7-1500 with TIA Portal (unless special requirements like redundancy), but from my experience Siemens is rarely used in the US while Rockwell dominates the market. Do you agree?

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thefern profile image
Fernando B πŸš€ Ask Me Anything

Nice! Which platform do you mostly use?

At the moment I use mainly RS5K, and Studio5000 on CompactLogix, and ControlLogix, we still provide support for old systems on SLC's with RS500. Prior to this job, I used Siemens for 5 years and worked in the whole S7 lineup with Simatic Manager, and a bit on TIA, I am not a big fan of everything in one window tbh.

Our customers are mainly switching to S7-1500 with TIA Portal (unless
special requirements like redundancy), but from my experience Siemens
is rarely used in the US while Rockwell dominates the market. Do you
agree?

I agree, US market is mainly dominated by Rockwell. Though there is a lot of european equipment here on several industries, and it usually comes in some form of European PLC, Siemens, Wago, Beckhoff, etc.

I miss working on Siemens, S7 lineup is a workhorse for sure.

Cheers!