• Q&A with ISA Automation Engineering Survival Training course instructor, Scott Sommer

    Earlier this summer, ISA conducted a highly successful, three-part technical training event-ISA Technical Training Camp-in Houston, Texas, USA over four consecutive weeks.

    One of the three components of the training was ISA Automation Engineering Survival Training (AEST), an intensive week of technical training boot camp for automation engineers that combines lecture and hands-on labs with bonus features, including a plant tour, technical library, and networking events.

    Recently, ISA had the opportunity to discuss what makes ISA Automation Engineering Survival Training so valuable and popular with an AEST instructor, Scott Sommer, PE, CAP. Sommer, a Senior ISA Member, is currently Technical Fellow in automation for Renmatix in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He has more than 32 years of experience in automation, instrumentation, and process control design and applications.

    Q. Why are you excited to teach this course?

    A. I'm excited to teach the AEST course because it is provides a chance to bring the world of automation to engineers of all experience levels. Normally, a course of this depth and breadth is reserved for Certified Automation Professional® (CAP®) candidates or students in advanced college courses, but with AEST, we are able to present the extents of the profession to a wide audience. I have a passion to train our next generation of automation engineers, and I am always excited to see students learn and apply these valuable concepts to their own projects.

    Q. What do you expect students to take away from the course?

    A. I expect the AEST student to take away a more complete understanding of the tasks, skills, and knowledge areas that are open to automation engineers. I expect the students to be awakened to new topics of interest and to become engaged in planning for additional training, learning, and certification. It amazes me that when we teach engineers, they almost always find a topic or two that piques their interest and energizes them to learn more. As automation engineers, this is keenly important, as the body of knowledge we must learn, apply, and master seems to increase year to year. The AEST training gives the student a snapshot of the entire profession all in one week. This gives students the satisfaction of having mastered some subjects, and also helps them identify areas that they need to work on, and introduces to them new areas for future study.

    Q. Why would you recommend the course to others?

    A. To my knowledge, there is no other offering from any organization that allows the student hands-on training, concise lectures, and interaction with an expert instructor exclusively on the topics of automation engineering. AEST is a unique course designed to train, encourage, and prepare automation engineers for a lifetime of service in the profession. Besides accomplishing a lot during the week, we also have a lot of fun!  For many, the plant visit is a golden opportunity to experience the actual manufacture of automation components and devices. 

    Q. Do you have any additional insights into why someone should attend the course?

    In my 30-plus years in the automation field, I have found the most valuable "off-site" weeks I have spent are in training situations with other engineers. The networking, sharing of experiences, learning about other industries, and informal discussions all enhance the training experience. It is important for automation engineers to escape for a while to enrich and recharge. The AEST course provides a perfect opportunity to do both.

    Q. Do you have an example of how the class helped a student with a work-related challenge?

    A. This actually occurs quite frequently during AEST classes. Many students come to class looking for an answer to a specific question or problem they are having. Most of these questions are addressed and answered in informal chats at breaks, after class, or at lunch. For example, one student was charged with putting together specifications for a project. He was curious as to which ISA standards may be useful in his effort. This was addressed with him one-on-one after class one day. Another student wondered if her plant's cybersecurity protections at the process control level were sufficient. As we worked through the class material on features of a good cybersecurity system, we tested each requirement against what they had in place. It turned out that the plant may have inadequate protection at the boundary switch between the plant floor and the MES system. The one-on-one contact with the instructor is a very valuable feature of the AEST course.