Who Is an Automation Engineer and a Systems analyst?

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Starting up a new installation onsite is commonplace now for Todd Hedenstrom, 26, an automation engineer for APV Crepaco, a food equipment and refrigeration company. He's installed computer-controlled equipment at a milk sterilization plant in Puerto Rico, milk plants in Southern California, sterilizers at a chocolate factory in Connecticut, an ice cream processing system in Denver, and an automatic cleaning system at a Phoenix bakery.

A graduate of Southern Illinois University in industrial technology, and of Elgin (Illinois) Community College, where he studied CAD, Todd was head technician at Data Domain, a Chicago-area computer store during his junior college years. Within a week after his SIU graduation in 1983, he'd been placed at Crepaco through an employment agency. His starting salary: $20,000. Two years later, he was making $27,000, which he considers lower-than-average for his experience and responsibilities.

Todd says his job comes in two phases. "The office part is a 9 to 5 job, wearing a shirt and tie and looking like a nice engineer," he explains. "At the home office in Chicago, I'm reading electrical drawings, finding out about the client's manufacturing process, and writing programs on my IBM Personal Computer.

"When I'm actually in a plant, sometimes I work 24 hours straight, and sometimes I only work two hours in the entire day because the client is manufacturing a product and I can't get the line to shut down. I've been covered with chocolate and cream. I've worked in an environment with anhydrous ammonia, used for refrigeration, where I've had to wear a gas mask. I routinely wear safety hat, safety glasses, and usually ear protection.

"My job requirements call for 100 percent alertness onsite. You can listen to someone lecture on safety all day, but until you've had something blow up and come close to hurting you badly, it doesn't sink in. If I'm not careful all the time, especially with food equipment, I could cause a salmonella outbreak."

One recent project, installing an automatic system to batch-process Coca Cola in two Lexington, Kentucky bottling plants, required Todd to write 254 small computer programs, chained together...a 2-inch-thick printout. Todd wrote the program that the computer used to make each batch, designed the electronics that opened and closed valves, started and stopped pumps, read the sweetness of the sugar, read the temperatures, made sure that pipes were in the right position, and cleaned the tanks. Before going to Kentucky, he simulated the operation of the plant on a mockup control panel.

Todd spent four weeks on the job site, installing the equipment and training plant personnel.

A Systems Analyst

Systems analyst Pat Nichols, 33, handles all software and hardware maintenance on certain Computer vision systems for Impell Corporation. "I've worked on the CADDS 4, CADDS 4X, and their CDS 4000," she says. "Usually our customers for the CDS 4000 system are power plants or engineering firms that provide design engineering for plants."

Pat feels salaries for systems specialists vary from $25,000 to $40,000, with Silicon Valley (the San Jose, California area) highest because of exorbitant living costs. Boston, Orlando, and Atlanta are other high-tech areas where jobs are available, she believes.

As the only woman in her six-person engineering group, Pat says she's had to work twice as hard as any man competing for the same job in order to gain credibility. Yet she recommends CAD/CAM as a field for women, and enjoys working with men. "I wouldn't want to be in an office, with lots of women sitting at typewriters," she says. "I like working with professionals, whether they are men or women."

Pat wears slacks and blouse to work in her Atlanta office, but wears suits when clients are expected. There, she upgrades software revisions, loading them onto disks and making sure that all other sites her company is supporting are brought up-to-date on each revision. She programs, using the operating system. When a client buys a software system, Pat visits the plant, installing software onsite by loading it from magnetic tapes onto disks in a special format. One recent installation required her to visit Ottawa, Canada. She spent four days there, training the client's staff to run the system.

Summing It Up

Richard Wysk, associate professor of industrial engineering, sees many CAM opportunities this way: manufacturing engineers, production control managers, automation specialists, manufacturing systems analysts, and industrial engineers, each holding engineering degrees, and starting out at around $26,500 for those with a bachelor's degree and no industrial experience. Master's degrees command $32,000 to $35,000 starting salaries, he says, and students with co-op experience can go substantially higher.

"The only limit to CAM jobs in future years," Wysk says, "is a person's imagination. Eventually, we'll be doing even more sophisticated things with the technology."
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