Q&A with Kevin Patel

Kevin Patel, P.E., serves as Vice President of Signature Automation, an automation consulting firm in Addison, Texas he helped co-found in 2012. Signature Automation focuses primarily on automation HMI/PLC programming, training, commissioning services, and electrical and instrumentation/control design engineering for the water/wastewater industry. Patel is a highly engaged and active ISA leader and volunteer. He is currently President of ISA’s North Texas Section and serves on several ISA standards committees. Given his professional expertise in the water/wastewater industry, Patel has been very involved in ISA’s Water/Wastewater Industry Division and its associated Water/Wastewater and Automatic Controls (WWAC) Symposium. He has served as symposium char, assistant symposium chair and a member of the symposium program committee. Patel is currently involved in marketing and exhibitor sales for the event.

Could you provide some background on your education (degree/s received) and academic areas of emphasis?

At a very young age I knew engineering was going to be my career path. However, the field within engineering was the difficult thing to decide on. I had family and friends suggest civil engineering, but that changed before I started. I was accepted into Texas A&M in 1998. I started as an electrical engineer, but quickly found a degree that suited me better which was computer engineering. The great thing about that degree was that there were two tracks, electrical and computer science. I went with the electrical track to get the best of the programming and electrical worlds. Due to the number of math courses, I also received a minor in mathematics. I graduated in May 2003 and started working in the automation industry. Driven by my passion to become a leader in the automation industry and future plans to start a business, I completed my master’s degree in business administration (MBA) at the University of Texas at Dallas in 2010.

What initially attracted you to the field of automation (and specifically your selected field)...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest? 

The funny thing is that I didn’t even know the automation profession existed. As a kid, you tend to learn about careers and roles from what you see, but you didn’t really see automation engineers on TV or in movies. As any university student may say, we are not really sure what job we want because we don’t know all the options. I was lucky to fall into the position of learning about the automation field through Texas A&M University’s co-op learning program. Through the program, I utilized two semesters (summer 2000 and spring 2001) to go to work full time for an instrumentation and control engineering firm focused in the water/wastewater industry. The knowledge of the automation world I gained on the job got me hooked.
Within the position, I learned human-machine interface programming, programmable logic controller programming, how to interact with clients, design engineering, and technical writing. What really reeled me in to the automation profession are the numerous challenges that require unique problem solving skills. 

Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation.

I was able to successfully follow my passion of starting up a company. I, along with two other business partners, started Signature Automation near Dallas, Texas in September 2012. Our firm began its focus on automation HMI/PLC programming, training, and commissioning services in the water/wastewater industry, but have since expanded to electrical and instrumentation/control design engineering for mainly the water/wastewater sector as well as some industrial areas. 

There are several hats that have to be worn to get a business off the ground and to continue to grow. This includes benefits administrator, event planning, sales, programmer, technical lead, project manager, and QA/QC reviewer. My title is Vice President, but I continue to stay heavily involved as our technical lead on many projects as well as a field engineer so I can continue to work closely with all of our clients to better meet their needs. 

Could you tell me how you are currently involved with ISA? Do you hold any volunteer positions with the Society or your local section/if so, which section?

I initially began getting involved with ISA by joining a standards committee. After going to some of the standards meetings, meeting many other ISA members, and familiarizing myself with other roles in the organization, I became heavily involved in the Society’s Water/Wastewater Industry Division and the associated Water/Wastewater and Automatic Controls (WWAC) Symposium. I am currently an information member on the ISA18, ISA105, ISA106, and ISA112 committees, and I am a voting member on the ISA101 – HMI committee.

Within the Water/Wastewater Industry Division, I have served as membership chair, director-elect, assistant newsletter editor. I’ve also served on the scholarship committee. I recently completed my term as the director while entering the role of scholarship chair. On the WWAC Symposium, I have held a position on the program committee while also serving as assistant symposium chair and symposium chair. I’m currently helping with marketing and exhibitor sales. 

As I became heavily involved in the division and ISA standards, I also wanted to get more involved in my local section, which is the North Texas Section. I am currently serving as the North Texas Section President.  

How did you get involved in ISA ?

I initially got involved with ISA as a new member after I graduated from college and started a new automation position with an oil/gas pipeline company in Houston. The Houston section along with the ISA Expo was a dominant force in the Houston area and it allowed me to better understand our industry and our profession by talking to the various vendors about what they did. After I left Houston, I continued as a member for several years before also getting involved in committees, divisions, and sections by taking on leadership positions.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

As an automation professional, it has been extremely beneficial to learn more about the automation profession as a whole, better understand the value and importance of ISA, and develop my career through leadership opportunities. I have been able to pick other very experienced automation engineer’s minds and tap into so much subject matter expertise driving our industry today and well into the future. This involvement helped me expand my horizons and become a subject matter expert in many fields within our industry, which includes PLCs, HMIs, alarm management, control system design, and troubleshooting—to name a few. In addition to enhancing my automation skills, I’ve also gained a lot of soft skills, such as presenting in front of audiences, communicating with others, and managing groups of people, organizations, and my time.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

There are so many facets of the automation industry. One can hardly master each skill required to design, automate, secure, and manage every component of a control system—for example. However, one can master a few, be aware of what is needed, and leverage a network of people to solve challenges, whether it’s cybersecurity or instrumentation design. Getting involved and taking initiative with an organization such as ISA can help a young professional understand the many aspects of our profession and help inspire young minds to become the next automation subject matter experts and leaders.