Jason K. Firth, C.E.T.

Instrumentation, Control, and Automation

The Path of the Certified Engineering Technologist for Instrumentation

Dec 162014

December 16, 2014

I'm Jason Firth.


A while back, I wrote about some examples of situations where using unqualified instrument techs caused catastrophic damage and the potential for a massive loss of life. A few days ago, I wrote about one path to becoming a qualified instrument tech, the path of the Journeyman.

Today, I want to speak a little about another path a person can take to become qualified, the path of the Certified Engineering Technologist.

To understand what an engineering technologist is, we need to take a step back for a moment, and look at trades and engineering.

A tradesman (a journeyman, for example) learns the nitty gritty of making control systems happen: They learn the procedures for calibrating different instruments, the step by step instructions for accomplishing specific practical tasks. On the other end, you have the engineer, who intimately understands the theoretical frameworks that help them to develop new products. Between the two, you have an engineering technologist, who has substantial practical knowledge, as well as substantial understanding of theoretical frameworks.

An engineering technologist will have some of the tools of a tradesman, and some of the tools of an engineer. Where as tradesman will know how to tune a loop using Zeigler-Nichols, an engineering technologist will be able to tune the loop using Zeigler-Nichols, and will also be able to model a control loop in the laplace domain to determine stability, and can solve some of the simpler differential equations required. An engineer will be able to model a control loop in the laplace domain, but can also do a full thermodynamic, fluid dynamic, kinetic model to determine things far outside the scope of mere control systems.

Just like the path of the Journeyman, Certification of Engineering Technologists is handled by different legislation in each province. Because of this, the options open to engineering technologists can be quite different from province to province.

In any case, the beginning of this path is an accredited college. The program is called different things around the country. I went to Instrumentation Engineering Technology, but one program is called Computer control engineering technology, or automation engineering technology.

Regardless of the name of the program, you're going to be looking at a lot of the same curriculum: Kinematics, fluid dynamics, electronics and electrical systems, calculus, linear process control, advanced process control, computer process control, final control elements, measurement, and quite a bit more. Along the way, you'll have to complete a term project, and a written report.

Some programs try to cram the entire engineering technology curriculum into 2 years, but most programs are 3 years in length. Often, you'll start off taking an engineering technician course, then with an extra year of work, you'll upgrade your engineering technician program to an engineering technology program.

The engineering technologist then needs to go out and get an appropriate job, and learn for a couple years.

Eventually, they can apply to become a Certified Engineering Technologist. This will mean their education and work experience will be scrutinized, and they will either be approved or not. However; there is one final step to becoming an engineering technologist: The technologist must learn all the appropriate legislation, and memorize the code of ethics for their professional organization. They must pass the Professional Practice Exam, proving they know it.

Once the Professional Practice Exam is passed, and once they are accepted to become Certified Engineering Technologists, then they are given a certificate showing that they are certified engineering technologists.

To be a Certified Member means you've proven yourself in the field, as well as in the classroom. It also means that you've agreed to follow a strict professional code of ethics, and that you understand that violating that code of ethics could mean not just losing your certification, but facing fines from your professional association.

Unlike with Journeymen, there is no red seal program between provinces with your CET designation. If you will be working in a different province, you must transfer your membership to that province.

Different provinces also provide different opportunities to CETs. Alberta, for example, provides the opportunity for experienced Certified Engineering Technologists to gain the ability to practice professional engineering within a limited scope; something called a "P. Tech(Eng)". Ontario is working towards a similar designation with the "LET" designation.

Certified Engineering Technologists who meet extremely stringent standards, and who are willing to undergo substantial upgrading and study can also be granted a P. Eng. in Ontario, a full license to perform professional engineering.


Thanks for reading!

The Power Destructitron X

Dec 082014

December 8, 2014


I'm Jason Firth.

This post is meant to test embedding youtube videos into a post. This video is relevant to the blog because it is my term project from college: The Power Destructitron X.

The story of this surprisingly complicated project has two completely different morals. I think which one you decide on depends on your attitude.

As part of the instrumentation program, everyone has to take part in a term project. Each term project had a certain difficulty, tailored for a certain number of people working on the project. One guy was building a weather station. Another group was building a heat tester. Yet another was building an XY table.

The project I ended up being given was to create a controller to very precisely control a rotary table. I had a rotary encoder, and a stepper motor and stepper motor controller, and an inductive proximity switch. The basic theory was quite simple: Find a home position, determine the number of stepper motor counts that reached 100%, and control the number of counts, while paying attention to the binary encoder. I was going to do all the control in a modicon momentum PLC, and use Wonderware to display the data.

Well, I sort of jumped the gun. All the parts fit together beautifully, the programming was really easy, and I was basically done the assignment on the first day.

When I showed Mr. Shirtliffe, the teacher in charge of the instrumentation engineering technology program there for 30 years at that point that I had completed the project, He seemed to get pretty excited. He stared picking up random parts -- a robotic hand here, a piece of an old laser printer there, a brutal looking 24vdc motor, and he gave me a new task: To build a "pick and place robot".

Well, the project that was originally a difficulty level of 1, just became a difficulty level of 11. I went from having some nice low voltage, low current stuff, to having a huge variety of devices. There was suddenly now air, high current DC, AC, low current DC, I even ended up building some motor controllers from scratch...and I had to find some way to put them all together in a way that would somehow move a block around.

This isn't hyperbole either; I was always in the classroom at 8am, but for weeks on end I'd stay in the lab until right before the last city bus that would take me home for the night. It was a huge amount of learning, research, work, and rework.

This video shows what I ended up with. Obviously this was before I had developed any real trade skills, but I'm still proud of the fact that I was able to somehow make a thing (no matter how contrived) out of these completely random parts.

(and no, this is probably not what I'd build today with an extra 8 years of design and field experience under my belt.)

As for the two different morals, it depends on your point of view: On one hand, there's the saying that "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down". That's a perfectly legitimate way of looking at things: I would have gotten just as good of a mark if I'd kept my head down and pretended to be working on this thing that was already working, after all. However; I think of it this way: Instead of simply doing a fairly simple project that wouldn't teach me that much, I got a chance to really stretch my legs, and learn first-hand the best way about a bunch of different controls.

Thanks for reading!