I'm new to this list so hello everybody! I'm studying for an MEng in
Cybernetics at the mo; Hoping for a career in control systems. I'm taking
a year out to develop extra skills and hopefully make myself more marketable
when I graduate! :-)
I'm particularly interested in the application of Control Systems to
Spacecraft, modelling/simulation/orbit control/flight dynamics etc. Anyway,
to get to the point, I was wondering if anyone could give me any suggestions
as to areas of expertise that I might develop to enhance my chances of
getting a job in this field or Control Systems in general. Any responses
would be most appreciated.
Hi Emma! Welcome to the group. It is widely varied but mostly confined to
terrestrial control problems.
If you would like to ask specific Spaceflight questions, if you haven't
already, may I suggest you also look at news:sci.space.tech (specific
technical questions) and news:sci.space.moderated (more general questions) -
some of the people there (eg. Henry Spencer, Jorge Frank and Rich Katz) do
spacecraft control and flight dynamics for a living and many of the other
posters are recognised experts in that field.
Thanks for that Cameron. I am also interested in terrestrial applications,
Spaceflight just seems particularly interesting at the mo. I posted to the
sci.space.tech site at the same time as I did this one though hadn't found
the moderated group yet.
I am interested in terrestrial applications, Spaceflight just seems
particularly interesting at the mo, and I'm a little worried that the
Control Systems on my course won't go into quite enough detail for me to be
at an advantage in the work place when I graduate so I figured it might be
an idea to try and develop some particular expertise! This seemed to be as
good a place as any, though I think it'll be a *little* while before I
understand everything that is being discussed here. It is nice to get an
insight into real life applications and developments on here which is
limited on my course.
Controls for space craft involve setpoint changes in a benign environment.
They also have extremely good system models available. Applications respond
well to good math.
Industrial controls involve constant setpoints with unpredictable external
disturbances. The system models are usually poor to non-existent.
Mathematical analysis is of limited value.
Setpoint or servo control vs. regulator control. The two are very
different. What you learned in school is far more relevant to the former.
Process industry is very messy but it pays well.
I don't post a lot to this board, but if I can offer you any advice
if you are looking into Controls as a field here it is. (By the way,
this is not a complete list.)
-look into some PLC training (if you don't already have some). Local
distributors offer training all the time.
-find out what sort of plc hardware is used in your geographical area
(call your local electrical distributor and ask them what hardware
companies are using.)
-research the products that are available from the desired
-make sure if you want to work in an industrial setting (a lot of
control jobs) you have a good base of electrical knowledge. I don't
mean you know Maxwell's Equations or Ohm's Law. I mean you understand
3 phase power and how control circuits fit into the system. You should
know what a VFD is and how it works. You need to know how a Reversing
-Communication Protocols are important too. You don't need to know
every detail, simply what protocols are out there and how to use them.
-Analog communications. You should know a little about 4-20mA and
0-10V. Advantages and disadvantages of each. How to implement
current/voltage loops using a PLC.
I teach a PLC nightcourse at a local college, and I see it every
time. I get Electrical Engineers who graduate and don't understand
real world electrical systems. You are more marketable if you are
field smart and not just book smart.
Thanks guys, this is exactly what I was hoping for - I knew there were holes
in my course, I think it covers a few too many areas in not quite enough
detail but now that I know what they are I can do something about it. Think
taking a year out is gonna will turn out to be a good move. :-)
Rather disturbing to me. I went to school to get a BSEE and am clueless in
this area. Graduated in May and control systems and microcontroller
programming interest me more than anything else in the field, but I've never
heard of VFD or reverse starters before. I've been considering working
through the second half of my controls text (the class spent over 50% of our
time on the first quarter, reviewing Laplace transforms for the MEs). I took
a PLC class (which wasn't actually part of my EE degree, but I worked in my
school's automation lab and was interested in learning more about them), and
the concepts presented in the course were crystal clear, but instead of
working on more complicated and diverse lab assignments, I found myself
squeezing larger and larger programs into smaller and smaller memory areas
with strict design criteria, and having meetings to discuss the design in
which we were all ultimately forced to follow the professor's template in
the end anyway. The class felt mostly like busy work, but did teach me the
basics of PLCs. I never heard of using a current/voltage loop with one
though, so it bothers me to think that I may still be quite a ways away from
being useful even in the PLC programming area.
Glad I'm not the only one who is in this boat. Would love to learn what I
need to know before I go where I need to know it though.
Variable Frequency Drives (Someone please tell me if they're not :-) )
though they never came up on my course - I did a little background research
on them during my DC Motors class. I know a little about Starters but not
My course covers PLCs but not in enough detail that it could really be
applied in reality :-( . What really worries me at the mo is that my course
has not covered 3 phase power (except to mention their applications). My
course isn't an EE course or a SE course. Obviously it covers aspects of
each but i'm a *little* concerned that if I don't cover the extra material
I'll struggle to find a job in either area.
(^^^^^ Sounds familiar!)
A lot of graduates from my course go into Mobile Telecommunications and very
few to the Control Industry (which surprises me as it is essentially a
I would like to point out, that I am not involved in any embedded work
or software engineering. I am strictly involved in larger scale
industrial control. My experience is in Water Treatment (clean and
dirty) and Automotive manufacturing. I worked for an electrical
contractor out of school so that I could develop my hands on
experience. If you are interested in embedded control, then I am not
the person to listen to.
A great resource for information would be
website). Here you will find all sorts of printed material. On the
left hand side, you will find 'A to Z Product Listing'. Click on that
and you will come to a page with all the Allen Bradley products. If
you want to investigate VFD (Variable Frequency Drive), then click on
'Drives' under 'Drives & Motors'. In there, on the right hand side,
you will find a link for 'Literature'. Click on the 'On-Line
Publications' link. In here, you will find all the Drives that are
available. Pick a drive (I use a lot of PlusII's and Powerflex 70's)
and look at what it does.
The same goes for all equipment.
This opens up a whole new ball of wax, as there is a tonne (metric
of course) of information here (including old junk that isn't used
anymore). If you are new to all this, then I would look at the
brochures that are available. They will fill you in on what these
devices do. Start very general. You don't need to know the engineering
behind a VFD, but merely how it works within the big picture. Then you
can research how to program them and what settings are
I think the best resource would be to go to as many trade shows and
seminars as you can in your first couple of years in the business. If
it's being offered, you should be going. This will help you develop a
picture of what is being used in industry. Then you can go back to the
Allen Bradley website and better understand what you are looking for.
If you have specific questions, ask them here. I'm sure someone will
Where do you draw the line between Control Systems Engineer and Electrician?
Engineer covers everyone from a plumber (sanitation engineer) and a railway
engine driver to the guys who designed the space shuttle.
When I worked as an electrician/panel wirer I dealt in star-delta starters,
VFDs and PLCs, high speed counters, limit switches, proximity switches,
light beam sensors and safety cut outs etc etc.
The Control System Engineering degree I took at university didn't deal with
electrical control, but rather with design of control items you wouldn't
expect all electricians to be capable of (No offence meant. I worked as and
with electricians and have yet to meet one I didn't like and respect).
Laplace transforms and control theory, frequency response, electronics,
software, to design flight control systems or electronic engine controllers
or active suspension or . . .
I'm told, that if you get a degree in an engineering discipline, this is
supposed to prepare you for the first step towards engineering and project
management. You choose.
The problem is, I guess, no course at college or university can fit
everything in. So you end up continually learning and doing courses on
safety and management and motivation and new systems for organising the job
better and better design tools and . . .
Of course, its this continual learning that keeps the job interesting.
Mark (Just my 2 cents)
You must be from UK. In Canada the word 'engineer' has a very specific
meaning. With the exception of a few specialized cases such as railway or
recording, 'engineer' means university degree plus professional license. Of
course in the media technicians get promoted to engineers and engineers to
scientists but this is not common usage.
"Mark" wrote in
message news:3fd4fb87$0$23815$ email@example.com...
Next time be more specific when naming your topic. For all that,
you've just gained an agreeable and competent bunch of down to earth
Find a job where you need a hard hat and toolbox; it will bring
marketable skills and even more endearment and respect.
For some material from the trenches look at:
Some of the articles herein are updated versions of the monthly
Heating Highlights Column in Process Heating Magazine, Bensenville
Who can benefit from these articles?
1. People in the broad field of processing heating, who are
mathematically or time limited and have to deal in short order with
various control problems - among their many other jobs.
2. The overloaded customer-support desks of control equipment
Incoming queries are rarely specific and detailed enough.
The caller is often unfamiliar with this technology and its
vocabulary; so sending out these primers can avoid phone seminars and
long dialogs with the help desk.
I do mostly embedded control, neither process control nor spacecraft,
although some of my control loops are in devices attached to aircraft. I
learned my most useful material from three places:
1. Control systems classes. You _do_ need the theory somewhere in your
brain, even if there's no math to pin it to.
2. Electrical Power and Electrical Machines courses. If electricity goes
in and torque comes out you'd like to know what's going on in between. Take
these courses when and if you can.
3. Installing air compressors and repairing furnaces at my Dad's shop.
Granted they were tiny motors by Walter's standards (only 10 horsepower),
but one learns about 3 phase power, where to jump when the motor starts the
wrong way, what 110 volts feels like and other useful things.
I think the biggest comment that I can make is that you can't go anywhere
with just control theory. If you don't understand what it is that you're
controlling you'll never make it work. You'll find that the people around
you may understand what they're asking you to control, but they won't speak
control system language, so you can't just ask for a system model (assuming
it can even exist). This means that _you_ have to learn _their_ job, at
least up to a technician's level. It also means that you'll need to do it
again and again, unless you settle into one little niche industry.
Furthermore, you have to be willing and able to push back on other people's
designs. Like it or not the "systems" is in "Control Systems" for a reason.
Folks will often design their part without really thinking about all of the
details of how it fits with the rest of the system. You'll come in at the
tail end and people will say "hey! There's the control engineer! She'll
fix everything!". There will be times when you'll have to make someone
change something. It may be someone who outranks you and started at the
company before you were out of diapers, and you'll have to forceful enough
to get it done while still being diplomatic enough to retain your job.
If this still all sounds like fun, then you're on the right track.
-- snip --
LOLOL! I was vague for that very reason :-) To be perfectly honest I don't
know what area of Engineering I want to go in to. I know I like the control
theory side of things - Laplace, Modelling, Transfer functions, Fourier (OK
so I don't really like that one so much), Simulation etc. I also like
drawing pretty pictures (Graphs) in MATLAB and Simulink ;-). However, I've
been keeping my eyes open for the last few years for what Control Jobs are
around in the UK and there seem to be relatively few compared to other
Engineering Disciplines. Most of the jobs that are available seem to be
industrial control/Petrochemical/Offshore etc (and very few design jobs) and
I do feel I need to develop additional skills to get a foothold in these
areas. Bought a book by Hughes yesterday (Electrical and Electronic
Technology or something like that) which will go towards plugging those
gaps and further my Electrical Power/Machines background.
Yes I am from the UK where the term 'Engineer' is applied very looseley in
many circumstances 'Engineers' do not receive the respect that I have
witnessed in many other countries. In fact most people I have met from a
non Engineering background consider an electricial to be an Engineer - often
an 'Installation Engineer' which I do not agree with. In fact I saw an
advertisment in the newspaper the other day for a 'Communications Engineer'
(Secretary) *raises hands in despair*. I will not consider myself to be an
Engineer until I have graduated with a professional qualification (MEng for
me) and become Chartered which will take about four years in Industry (Is
that what you mean by professional license - we do not have a license as
such). I do however agree that you can be an Engineer without going to
University as mentioned; you can be an Engineer by trade as opposed to
profession - I think the railway was a good example.
I didn't notice the 'Emma' part. My daughter is Emmi. She just graduated
in chemical engineering.
I think it was in this thread that someone complained they didn't have a
clear idea of electrical power. Simple, let me quote from my web site,
"Electricity is smoke. It is produced by burning coal or oil in power
stations. They burn the fuel to make smoke and the smoke is pushed down the
wires to the appliances in your home. Then the smoke goes back to the power
station on the other wire and is let out the stack. The worst thing you can
do to an electrical appliance is to let the smoke out. Once the smoke gets
out, the appliance will no longer function. Sometimes you can fix the leak
with tape but usually it is too late. Even worse is if the smoke gets out
in the middle of a wire. Then it will set your house on fire. Toasters let
out just a little bit of smoke in the form of hot air."
The best way to get started is to start. You'll learn a lot soon. More
than you possibly can any other way. I started as draughtsman. I wasn't
very good but I learned that the symbol that looks like this -||- is not a
capacitor. It is a relay contact. I was laid off after a couple of months
but that little bit of knowledge got me my next job. During the interview I
was shown a drawing that said "Motor Starter Wiring Diagram" in the title
block. When I was asked what the drawing was I said, "It's a motor starter
wiring diagram." I kind of figured out the rest. Then I was shown a
complex matrix. I was asked if I knew what it was. Again I read the title
block. I said, "It's an Emergency Shut Down Key." I was asked if I could
read it. The column on the left said things like, "Separator V-12 high
level." The row across the top said things like, "Separator inlet
ESDV-101". At the intersection of the two lines it said, "CL". I took a
wild chance and said, "When there is a high level in inlet separator V-12
you close the Emergency Shutdown Valve 101". And this how I started in a 30
year career. Actually I didn't have a clue what I was doing but I hung on
just long enough to find out. That is how most control systems engineers
get started. Gregory Macmillan wrote a whole book on that subject, "How to
be an Instrument Engineer". It is sold by ISA.
Yes, in Canada P. Eng.; is about the same as chartered engineer in UK.
Don't knock process control. You get to play with BIG toys.
Oh, one more hint -- That second job I got by answering an ad looking for
EEs with THREE years experience. "If only I had three years experience", I
dreamed. Then I figured that maybe the old hand with THREE years experience
might need a helper. So I applied. There was no three year guy available
till about three years later. Then it was me.
Recent graduate with twenty years experience.
History of loyalty to employer and willing to relocate to other continents
within a week.
Fully qualified but not smarter than the boss.
Good sense of humour but doesn't read Dilbert.