Students reach out for automation
By Ellen Fussell Policastro
Thomas Kinder is a little older than most of his classmates. But at 31, he decided to learn more about automation because as a current employee at a large financial company, he became bored “sitting in a cube and balancing numbers all day.”
What sparked his interest was watching technicians coming into the office to fix machines (IBM 3890s) that read magnetic ink character recognition lines on checks and make split-second decisions. “I learned how to fix a lot of problems on these machines. I picked it up quickly and liked that type of work,” he said.
Before he knew anything about automation, Kinder pictured “some kind of assembly line, like robotic arms building cars in place of people doing the job,” he said. It did not sound very glamorous or interesting, but it did sound too difficult and technical without the proper training. Now with his first learning experience with digital, Kinder has started microcontrollers and microprocessors. “This is the fun part of school,” he said. “I can’t do too much yet, but soon we’ll be building sumobots [autonomous robots that attempt to push each other out of a ring—as in Sumo wrestling].”
Kinder was surprised at how big the industry really is. In school, Kinder realized how much more to it there was other than what he had pictured. “Now I read articles in InTech magazine or internet stories that grab my attention. School is still teaching me a lot about it.”
He would recommend other students join ISA early so they can attend meetings and get familiar with automation before learning it in school. Students considering a career in automation can use their current interests and skills to their best advantage. “Since there are so many different types of jobs, find something you’re interested in, and talk to someone who has an internship in that field,” Kinder said. “That’s what I did.”
George Anthony Mottillo was also intrigued as a kid by trying to figure out what makes things work. “Automation is a study on that very principle,” he said. “The study of electronics in general is very interesting, and there is the potential to make a decent amount of money in the field.”
While Mottillo finds automation difficult, he enjoys the challenge because he likes “to be pushed—to show myself what I am capable of doing if I put forth the effort.”
In his studies so far, he has only begun to scratch the surface of automation, “but it was enough to tell me I would like to further my knowledge of the subject in any way I can.”
As a student at Pittsburgh Technical Institute, Mottillo was surprised by the amount of work put in to make sure things do not fail. He knows it is important to “keep learning, and if the situation permits, continue your education and stay up on what’s current in the industry. Being a member of ISA is also a great choice,” he said. “Anything I can do to learn more about automation, I’m all for it; I’ll do what it takes to someday be a professional in the automation industry.”
Reaching across continents
Automation is spreading its arms even wider with ISA’s undergraduate student research conference pilot program, sponsored by the ISA professional development department at the 2009 ISA EXPO. The program gave two students from each participating school the opportunity to present their paper at ISA EXPO.
Alexey Tirtichny, St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation, wrote a paper on auto-oscillation inertial measuring devices as part of the program. With a major in inertial measuring devices, Tirtichny is most interested in micromechanical sensors. “Years ago, everybody was trying to make things bigger and bigger. Now everybody is trying to make things better and better,” he said. “My original study is small sensors. You can put these sensors on your nail. Inertial devices are sensors that measure acceleration and angular rates, so you can create navigation systems using these sensors. You can use them everywhere, on every moving thing—aircraft, cars, surgery devices, or surgery instruments.”
George Kuyumchev, also a student at St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation, wrote a paper on mathematical and imitating models of echo, focusing on signals of the sea surface.
“When you make a presentation, you hear different opinions from different people. Maybe there are some things you’ve forgotten, so it’s interesting to hear different opinions,” he said of his experience at ISA EXPO this year. “You can meet other young professionals to see which programs they are thinking about.”
Kuyumchev’s area of expertise is a module of different random processes. “We work in different spheres. I have a friend that works in micromechanics. It is interesting to know what else can be done,” he said. “Maybe I will find something I want to make in the future to change my specification for example.”
Tirtichny believes societies such as ISA are “important for science in our world because it’s good when you can come meet your colleagues from every country of the world, and we can change our experience with them. That’s important with young people,” he said. “We’re still students; we will graduate this year. It’s encouraging for us [at ISA EXPO] to see older people who’ve done a lot with automation for the industry.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Fussell Policastro is a freelance writer/ editor based in Raleigh, N.C. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.