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Description of Control and instrumentation engineer

  1. Jan 5, 2012 #1
    Hello, I am an undergraduate in EE, for the last year I have taken two control courses (classical control theory, and digital control) which I find very interesting and considering taking an Msc in this subject. Are any of you a control engineer and could you describe what kind of job you do? I'm quite aware that it can vary greatly, nevertheless I'm still very interested to hear from you.

    Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2012 #2
    Funny you should mention that. My degree is in Electrical Engineering, and my PE is in Controls Engineering.

    There are many things you could do. The best thing to remember is that Control systems engineering is actually a cross section of many disciplines. The big difference between Controls and Electrical Engineering is that Electrical Engineering is mostly concerned with the steady state behavior, whereas Controls are very concerned with the initial response and settling time.

    Industries that employ Control Systems Engineers include the Petrochemical, Pharmaceutical, and many manufacturers. But don't overlook utilities, such as water, electric, gas, and so forth.

    If you like telecommunications and controls, consider designing SCADA systems.

    I work for a large water and waste-water utility. We have six plants and a distribution SCADA system. On any given day I or someone on our staff may be responsible for selecting appropriate instruments to measure certain processes, tune a PID loop for proper aeration blower responsiveness to dissolved oxygen meters, Create HMI graphics for operators (not so easy), do forensic analysis of incidents, study network performance for PLC use, select valves used for controls...

    You have to be good at a lot of different things ranging from regulations for safety, performance, reporting, and so on; process design; disaster recovery; Real Time Embedded systems; Managing people's expectations; Reviewing plans; Answering weird questions from operators at 2 AM (I've done that more times than I'd like to think about); Choosing valves for proper process response...

    This is a broad field, it can also potentially be quite deep in places. I think it's a lot of fun.
  4. Jan 7, 2012 #3
    Thank you very much for your time and help! It was very informative. I have just one further question, what is the difference between getting a PE and a Msc? is it the same? I live in europe and I dont think we have anything called PE
  5. Jan 7, 2012 #4

    There is such a designation in Europe.

    In general, such designation is simply a declaration of responsibility and liability for a design. In other words, the people with certifications are the ones that will be held responsible for any problems in a design. Typically it is used for designing structures, bridges, and critical components.

    In the Controls business, it is typical to require a licensed engineer to sign off on the safety-systems.

    Personally, I stay away from such designs to the extent that I can. Some people think this is a mark of prestige. It is not. It is a mark of "I'm educated and experienced enough to know what I'm doing" --and you're not supposed to certify a design if you have any doubts.

    Does it work? Well, sort-of. I've seen way too many certified designs with very serious mistakes, and some truly awful oversights.

    Seek certification with care, and once you have it, use your authority with care. I'm tired of dealing with the mistakes of people who are supposed to have known better.
  6. Jan 8, 2012 #5
    Oh ok I see what it is about. Thanks again for your time and help
  7. Jan 10, 2012 #6
    My biggest advice would be find some classes that do some hands on control design if they are available. My undergraduate controls classes were very theoretical and then the first time I actually worked on a controls problem I found I didn't know a lot of what I needed and a lot of what I learned was great but not necessarily applicable.

    My work experience has been in creating very specific controllers for hydraulic systems. The general goal was to track continuous but random commanded movements to a very high degree of accuracy. You end up with a lot of trade offs like steady state response versus velocity tracking and you end up doing a lot of system tuning that is as much trial and error as something that could be calculated mathematically.
  8. Jan 11, 2012 #7
    There was a class like that, but unfortunately it was overbooked :(. I too feel that it has been quite theoretical until now, but I may start to make some of my own projects at home just to test my knowledge and creativity out.

    Do you only have bsc in EE, or do you also have an msc?
    Your job sounds quite interesting, what kind of hydraulic systems do you work on?

    Also, I may be taking an algorithm , and probability theory class next semester, is that something you would recommend?

    Thanks to both of you for your very detailed responses, it has given me an insight in what a control engineer does, and I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities in other areas as well!
  9. Jan 12, 2012 #8
    I have a MSC also. The control classes I took for it were state space based control(instead of transfer functions), optimal theory, and some non-linear control. While I had a much better understanding of it due to work experience, a lot of it still isn't something I actually use past some general ideas. To that I would add as you do more and more complex system you would have to do more calculations because it isn't as easy to tweak parameters, but I have never worked on an overly complex system.

    Classes on probability theory never hurt, it is still an area I wish I new better because it has application in many fields.
  10. Jan 13, 2012 #9
    Thank you very much for your answer, it has been very helpful!

    If I might ask, what are the hydraulic systems you're working on used for?
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