Baseline training is an important part of any automation team. The advantage of having everyone with the same common knowledge and starting point becomes immensely valuable as the team grows and expands, regardless of the individual’s eventual responsibilities.
At Panacea we run every new hire—from college graduates to engineers with 30+ years of experience—through the same training. While the training has evolved over the years—with new and different tasks—the general concept has remained the same; provide everyone a baseline experience with the most common software and hardware we utilize. This helps everyone to begin thinking in the same logical way. End users began asking for this training customized for their specific sites and companies. It is not atypical to conduct training across several different departments—with managers as well as engineers—to give everyone the same starting reference for automation. We have often held training with attendees from information technology (IT), process development, automation, and R&D in the same class.
A benefit to automation
A clear starting point for everyone in the automation department creates a standard mindset for the entire team to follow. It allows for project resources to shift in the event of scope or availability changes, as everyone began learning the same language. While the applications and technologies may change from person to person and project to project, the concepts and standards taught in the baseline training remain the same. Anyone who has gone through the training will be able to assess new technologies and compare it to what they have used and the concepts they already know. This allows them to easily come to a determination of the new products usefulness in the industry, and how to approach learning it.
A cross-functional benefit
The baseline training holds a major benefit across departments and cross-functional teams. Process engineers and IT are given tools that they can use to diagnose where problems could occur, even if they will not be the resource to solve the issue. They can more easily detect if an issue is mechanical or software in nature and forward the issue to the appropriate department. This allows them to have a better understanding of what automation is capable of doing and in what timeframes, in order to keep expectations reasonable and to allow more direct and guided questions during user requirement meetings. Validation and QA departments gain insight to how automation works, to better understand risk and risk management to typical use, changes, and maintenance of the automation systems. This enables them to direct attention to where compliance problems will typically arise.
A benefit to management
Management will gain greater empathy for what their employees are doing day in and out and can predict resource requirements and project risks easier. Expectations for project length and difficultly is easier realized by someone who has performed some of the baseline tasks. They will see how the training directly affects everyone and can learn strengths and weaknesses as well as how to best organize a team and utilize individual members effectively.
Companies who provide baseline training to their employees create a standard from the beginning that all employees will follow. Baseline training can also set and cement expectations within the automation department. Other departments gain valuable insights into the operations of automation, in order to aid in troubleshooting and requirements determination. Management will understand the scope of tasks and determine the appropriate timelines and expectations of projects at their inception.
Dan Krohnemann is lead engineer at Panacea Technologies, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Panacea, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.