The Future of Careers in Process Control

For the past 10 years I have worked as an idependent consultant in the Process Control and Automation field (PLC, SCADA, Data Aquisition,
Reporting systems, etc). I have been noticing a slow turndown in the demand for these types of services over the last 5 years and I am interested in knowing if any others in the field have noticed the same. Some people I have talked to seem to believe that Industry is currently saturated with control systems with new work only coming from new construction and small projects being performed in house by increasingly tech-savy maintenance employees. I have been contemplating shifting my career focus to perhaps MES/ERP or another Automation related but growing field.
My question is: What do you see as the high demand expertise areas in Process Control over the next 10 years?
Steve
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I agree with you. Now that the MBA's of the world are in control. Automation is taking the back burner for a lot of companies. There are still jobs out there. I work independently as well. My biggest hurdle is I refuse to travel any more. I worked for an OEM (+100 flights a year) and found that I could get 1 job in ~20 that I bid and still make the 30% it took to keep the bean counters off my ass. But that was not acceptable. Extending the equipment beyond what is was good for; was/is just asking for trouble. Not that the MBA's cared. All they worried about was the monthly bottom line and what the price of the stock was on Wall Street that day.
Most maintenance electrical folks I run into have kittens when they look at my Fluke 724. Most vaguely know what a 787 is. Not that 90% of them could use such an instrument. My experience is that companies are in "if it ain't broke, then it is just fine" mode. Preventive maintenance/recalibration is gone until something effects the bottom line. I live in Phoenix and I am seeing more and more movement to outsourcing. The companies do not want to maintain the talent level nor do they want to purchase the tools. So I get a call. Not that this is steady, but it is getting better slowly.
I just turned down a job for a municipatility. They wanted to change out a redundant PLC system on the fly. I tried to explain that when the first processor was changed they would loose the redundant capability, cause there was a major jump in technology. They said " we know it can be done." Then they said change both of them at the same time. I looked at them and said that there were over 500 connections per processor. I got the deer in the head light response. Not a clue what they were asking. These folks are still running 10base 2 Ethernet. I am surprised that it has not crashed yet. They will be back, I get 30% of my business from them and it is just getting larger.
Good luck with your decision
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related fields) is that most process control work is based on manufacturing. Most of my work is related to the "process industries" (pharmaceutical, paper, power, chemical, etc.). In the US there are two problems--the economy and the movement of manufacturing out of the US to China, etc. Economic statistics clearly show that the number of manufacturing jobs in North America is down. The use of measurement and control is based on the amount of manufacturing. Walmart greeters and nurses aids don't use control systems.
The competition is tougher, and it is harder to find and keep work. But some work is there.
Good Luck
Anita
snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.ca wrote:

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And the work is being outsourced too.
Anita Richards wrote:

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There is a high demand for your services and skills over here (The Land of Oz).
There is a bit of a skill shortage here at the moment (hey, you could work for us!) and you would have no difficulty finding any range of process control positions - both Contract and Permanent - working on Water, Oil & Gas and a variety of infrastructure projects for the Internationals like Woodside, Billiton, Caltex, Esso, etc. that are currently spending big money here, mostly in Western Australia and Queensland. There doesn't seem to be much slowing down either.
Ever thought of having an "extended holiday" overseas?? We don't bite..
Cameron:-)
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Maybe she was looking for a biter ... lol
Cameron Dorrough wrote:

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Hi Steve
I did an MSc in Automatic Control and Systems Engineering in Sheffield University here in the UK in 2000
A lot of what was been taught was the current research and as such is probably a good indicator of what will BE in the next few years.
Apart from micros and plcs and the multiple types of systems that are configurable for SCADA and data retrieval - BUS (can?) the focus was on the modelling and simulation of such systems with added intelligence - different paradigms for control - i.e. adaptive cointrol, generalised minimum variance control, fuzzy blogic, neural nets, condition monitoring, statistical process control etc.etc..
I use MATLAB and SIMULINK to generate a controller f (once a reasonable system model has been developed) It is possible then to generate the C/C++ code automatically in MATLAB for digital control (although this usually needs some pruning)
I personally think that the up and coming areas will most likely include retro-fitting existing plant with controllers that can save energy (imminent carbon tax)
Condition monitoring systems to add intelligence and prevent downtime especially in safety critical or capital critical systems
When I finished in Uni - Most of the Industries I talked to used very simple systems - PID controllers and were unimpressed by the capital investment neccessary to add intelligence to their systems. Probably because there wasnt enough 'system identification' data - (production guys very suspicious of such methods)
But eventually and for energy saving - better methods are beginning to filter into the market from the likes of aerospace industries.
Kieran
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