Author Topic: Career Question: What's your job like?  (Read 13685 times)

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Offline theaustindixonTopic starter

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Career Question: What's your job like?
« on: February 22, 2024, 03:38:03 am »
My local Technical College has two programs that I'm interested in: "Industrial Electronics" and "Electrical Technology". I am trying to decide which path to take and could use some advice.

The Industrial Electronics program teaches PLC programming, robotics, and electronic troubleshooting. It's intended to prepare students for working as a Maintenance Technician or PLC Programmer in a factory. On the other hand, the Electrical Technology program prepares students to become Electricians.

I am very interested in automation, but I'm concerned that I might see my family a lot less. I've been told that the Maintenance Tech jobs usually work long hours and graveyard shifts, and that PLC Programmers often work 60-80 hour weeks and spend months on the road. I am more interested in electronics/robotics than I am wiring, but I think it might be easier to find reasonable hours as an electrician.

Can anyone working in these fields chime in and give me an idea what the industry is like, and if you have any work-life balance? Thanks.
 

Online IanB

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2024, 04:04:05 am »
These areas are not my world, so I can't give you any advice from personal experience here, but I can offer a few thoughts.

Firstly, industrial plants and big factories often run 24/7, so if you are in the maintenance department you might have to be on call at unsociable hours if ever things go wrong and need fixing quickly. However, I would expect scheduled maintenance activities would take place at more sociable hours. The same might also happen as an electrician, depending on where you work and who for. On the other hand, if you work in a union job you should get compensated for working bad hours, and you should definitely get paid for every hour you work.

To work with PLCs and PLC programming, that would partly be office based, since programming a PLC is mainly working with a computer to enter and upload the program. On the other hand, commissioning and troubleshooting would require working on site, and again perhaps long hours, but this would be not be the whole time. Some people can find the travel and site work enjoyable, as it provides a break from routine.

There could be a middle ground, since I think in the industrial world there could be an overlap between maintenance or instrument technicians and electricians. I don't know which pays more, but working with PLCs, factory automation and instrumentation might provide more opportunities for career growth.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2024, 04:05:22 pm by IanB »
 

Offline coppercone2

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2024, 09:12:44 am »
only a big factory runs 24/7 plenty of smaller factories run normal hours. its all about volume.

the drudgery you are thinking about is usually for extreme mass production of nearly disposable items. you can get a job at a factory that does less but you need more skills because there you end up having to do more (these are conscientious about head count. you also might not be paid very well). If you wanna really just do what is on the resume then thats more true for a big factory but it comes with the other factory troubles, but you probobly won't find high use of PLC in many of them (though for very high tech products they might exist)

chances are if its in your house, and its a factory, you will be working alot. if its in high end factories not so much but harder to get a job because they want swiss army knife

when people say factory they usually mean like making shaving cream cans. but plenty of things that no one has in their house are somewhat mass produced
« Last Edit: February 22, 2024, 09:17:13 am by coppercone2 »
 

Offline VRomanov

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2024, 02:00:52 am »
I've worked in Industrial Automation as a PLC / HMI / SCADA Programmer for over a decade. Here's my perspective:

1. It's somewhat of a difficult industry to get into due to the high cost of hardware / software. You should have access to these at the college - take advantage of it.
2. You should focus your efforts on the most utilized platforms - in North America, on the PLC side that's Allen Bradley (Rockwell), in EU that's Siemens. On the robotics side, focus on Fanuc.
3. There are many different jobs in manufacturing / automation - if your goal is to move up / make good money, strive to program / be an engineer. As you gain experience, try to upskill on other tools beyond plc programming - SCADA, MES, etc.
4. You should be trying to learn as much as you can on your own; there are many resources online that will provide you with more up-to-date materials than your college.

Best of luck...
 

Offline arjen

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2024, 10:39:43 pm »
I'm a student too, and I faced a similar dilemma between choosing a program in computer science and another in business management. I went for computer science because it aligned more with my interests, even though the workload was intense. Regarding work-life balance, it's true that technical jobs like PLC programming can demand long hours and travel, depending on the company and the projects you work on. Electrician roles might offer more regular hours, but it really depends on the job and the employer.

Lately, I've been looking for good part time jobs to balance with my studies and found a position in software developer. It's been great for gaining experience related to my university course and managing my time better. If work-life balance is a priority, exploring part-time jobs in your field of interest could be a good strategy to gain experience while keeping your schedule manageable.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2024, 07:28:58 pm by arjen »
 

Offline Michelle

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2024, 04:52:38 pm »
My local Technical College has two programs that I'm interested in: "Industrial Electronics" and "Electrical Technology". I am trying to decide which path to take and could use some advice.

The Industrial Electronics program teaches PLC programming, robotics, and electronic troubleshooting. It's intended to prepare students for working as a Maintenance Technician or PLC Programmer in a factory. On the other hand, the Electrical Technology program prepares students to become Electricians.

I am very interested in automation, but I'm concerned that I might see my family a lot less. I've been told that the Maintenance Tech jobs usually work long hours and graveyard shifts, and that PLC Programmers often work 60-80 hour weeks and spend months on the road. I am more interested in electronics/robotics than I am wiring, but I think it might be easier to find reasonable hours as an electrician.

Can anyone working in these fields chime in and give me an idea what the industry is like, and if you have any work-life balance? Thanks.

For automation techs it really depends where you work. Some jobs will have you go on the road, some you will be working in a factory. A maintenance tech may or may not be the same as an automation tech. A lot of the time these job titles and duties are confusing, overlap, etc...

Being an electrician is a totally different thing so if you want to get into automation don't do that.

A "plc programmer" isn't really a thing, typically controls engineers do the heavy lifting here and maintenance/techs will interface with the PLC for troubleshooting and adjustments. Likewise for robotic programming. You're going to be keeping up existing systems, not making new ones. The amount of knowledge needed to do troubleshooting with a PLC is far lower than making a program from scratch.

IMO the most valuable thing for you would be to do the industrial electronics program then get your foot in the door at a company where you can learn and obtain training, such as Amazon. Don't get roped into being a maintenance tech at a bakery down the street where things are held together with duct tape and nobody can help you.

SCADA systems are more of a controls engineer thing IME rather than something a technician handles.
 
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Online IanB

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2024, 08:13:02 pm »
A "plc programmer" isn't really a thing, typically controls engineers do the heavy lifting here and maintenance/techs will interface with the PLC for troubleshooting and adjustments.

In the 1980's, I observed that PLC programmer was actually a job. The control engineers would specify the controls on paper or schematic diagrams, and other people would key the program into the DCS (or PLC). The controls company I was working with hired technicians specifically to program their hardware.

Maybe it's different today, 40 years later, but that is how it was back then.
 

Offline Michelle

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2024, 03:55:44 am »
A "plc programmer" isn't really a thing, typically controls engineers do the heavy lifting here and maintenance/techs will interface with the PLC for troubleshooting and adjustments.

In the 1980's, I observed that PLC programmer was actually a job. The control engineers would specify the controls on paper or schematic diagrams, and other people would key the program into the DCS (or PLC). The controls company I was working with hired technicians specifically to program their hardware.

Maybe it's different today, 40 years later, but that is how it was back then.

I don’t know, it could very well be the case in some places. Automation is a big umbrella and lots of different places and industries do different things. As for me I’ve been building and designing automated equipment; machines, robotic cells, lines, etc… both as an OEM and an integrator for about the last 10 years.
 

Offline Tom45

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2024, 04:46:12 am »
I work with a manufacturer of industrial machines that involve both computers and PLCs to go with the machinery they design, build, sell, and install. I work on the computer side but fairly closely with the PLC people.

If you work for a company like the one I work with, yes, you will spend a fair amount of time on the road doing installs, training, and ongoing support for the customers.

However, if you get a job at one of the companies that has bought the equipment, then you almost certainly won't be traveling. You will be staying home and working to keep the plant running, as well as make changes that become apparent over time.

The possible exception for the latter case would be that you work for a large corporation that has many plants. That might mean that now and then you travel to other plants owned by the same company.
 
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Offline SmallCog

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2024, 10:15:04 pm »
I'm a fortnight late to the party but I'll throw a few thoughts in.

In my part of the world there are a few different flavors of electrician. There's the people who wire up houses, the ones most people think of when someone says electrician.

Then there's the ones who specialize in certain industries (power distribution, mining, electric railways, railway signaling etc.) and there's industrial electricians. These people do electrical work wiring up equipment, but also do "smart" work in relation to automation, industrial equipment, etc. Some of them program PLC's, some of them just tweak them. They'll often be the ones doing the configuration of equipment though such as variable speed drives. Remember also that not all automation is in a factory, there's also a lot of automation goes into utilities like water treatment that may or may not be more pleasant to work in.

It may be that if similar roles exist there that you should consider being an industrial electrician, you may find it more interesting than wiring up sockets in houses.

If in your area licenses are needed to do electrical work then certainly try and structure your studies so as to obtain one. At least you can then pick up work wiring sockets whilst you seek out a more interesting role working with programmable devices.

Another area to look into is the environmental industry working with equipment such as weather stations, water monitoring, seismographic stations, etc. In this industry you'll be programming dataloggers (eg Campbells Scientific) working with sensors, solar power systems, as well as the mechanical side of things building a monitoring platform that can survive the rigors of deployment in hostile environments. It's interesting challenging work, but from what I've seen it's also quite civilized, certainly not working night shifts or 80-hour weeks. The work tends to be focused more on high quality than high productivity.

 

Offline 5U4GB

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Re: Career Question: What's your job like?
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2024, 11:40:01 am »
To work with PLCs and PLC programming, that would partly be office based, since programming a PLC is mainly working with a computer to enter and upload the program. On the other hand, commissioning and troubleshooting would require working on site, and again perhaps long hours, but this would be not be the whole time. Some people can find the travel and site work enjoyable, as it provides a break from routine.

If you're really lucky, the "office" might be your home, particularly post-Covid where that style of working has become more acceptable.  I know several guys who work with IEDs (power system control, not the exploding kind) who are on-site 1-2 days a week and work from home the rest of the time.  It really depends on the employer, and for the OP may mean accepting slightly less pay in exchange for far more convenient working conditions.

Oh, and for the OP: If you end up WFH and your partner also WFH you may actually end up appreciating getting out of the house a few days a week :-).
« Last Edit: April 18, 2024, 11:43:55 am by 5U4GB »
 


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