9 Lessons Online Industrial Automation Courses Don’t Teach
Whats missing when you take an automation training course?
You’re not going to notice what they don’t teach you, until you get a job. But by then it’s going to be too late, your going to be knee deep in real world projects with little time to learn what you should have learned before you took the job.
If Someone Had Only Taught Me
To compound the tragedy, most employers need professionals as fast as they can get them even if they aren’t fully trained. However, the time will come when you hit the crunch, when you discover what you need to know but weren’t taught.
And if you’re like me you’re going to say; “this isn’t hard to learn, if someone had only taken the time to teach me, it would have saved me a lot of grief and wasted time”
Well, my friend that’s exactly why I wrote this post, I am going to save you a truckload of aggravation and make you look work a professional.
1. Hardware Configurations
One of the most frustrating lessons you won’t learn in an online industrial automation course is how to configure hardware.
Oh, you may well learn how to program a light curtain or a proximity sensor, or how to start a motor. But you likely won’t learn that on a WAGO controller, the dip switches on the WAGO help set the IP address.
Or that all Rockwell’s configurable devices have both a software and a hardware method of setting IP addresses. It’s with these hands on hardware lessons that online courses generally fail their students.
They get so caught up with the software that they neglect the hardware configuration specifics.
2. Programming Platforms
Learning programmable logic controller programming? Which one; Direct Logic, Siemens, Rockwell, Mitsubishi, Omron, Delta or maybe one of a hundred other controller brands?
Online training courses often only focus on a single brand, which can be crushing when you get in to the real world, because almost no company uses a single brand company wide.
Now to be fair to the training company’s its impossible to train you in every possible brand of controller, so what that means is your going to have to take it upon yourself to always be learning, your going to have to start by focusing on the most common brands and then branch out to learn a few others as well.
3. Testing Procedures
One of the most critical skills when programming is to be efficient, but more importantly is to be accurate and I will be the first to tell you that NO one, ever writes perfect code.
There are going to be mistakes, especially when you take into consideration that over the life of a project there are going to be changes, addon’s, modifications and just plain human errors.
Unfortunately, one of the least taught lessons with PLC programming courses is how to test your code. In professional engineering firms it would be uncommon not to find them using specific algorithms to test their code.
The good firms will have a method or process to test every single input, output HMI message, error message and fault in their code.
There are times when the phrase “proper preperation prevents poor performance” and learning lessons before you need them is once such instance.
4. Research Skills
In every online program I know of not one of them gives you a problem and then teaches you how to use Google to find the solution.
They ALL give you a project to program and then show you an example of how they would program for that project.
Not one of them teach you how to find solutions online, which is incredible considering the fact that every single one of their graduates are going to spend hours and hours online searching for solutions for projects there are working on in the real world.
Now that seems odd to me, in fact it seems hypocritical in a way. It would be akin to a computer programmer who doesn’t know how to turn on a computer.
5. Project Life Cycle
Yes, every project, large or small has a life cycle. Some only last a few hours and some can last months or even years.
But make no mistake every project has a cycle, which begs me to ask why isn’t project management of industrial automation projects taught?
A lesson on the phases of a project in this industry, integrated into the discipline of project management would be invaluable. Because make no mistake there is a HUGE difference between someone who plans a project and someone who wings it.
More importantly is that no one will know the difference if there is no comparison but the minute a professional works beside someone who wings it, it’s noticeable like a bonfire in a cornfield on a dark night.
6. Helpful Skill-sets
While programming is often a common skill-set you would expect to learn while taking an industrial automation course.
You will find that there are many more skills you may find extremely valuable while in this field.
Now to start, I will mention that I know some automation techs who do not do anything but program PLC’s, and I know a few that never do any programming.
But I will tell you that in my experience being an electrician who can weld and do equipment rigging and is capable and willing to operate lift trucks and boom cranes has been invaluable at times. So, keep this in mind.
Learn as many skills from other tradesmen who work around you as often as you can.
7. Career Paths
Again, I want to iterate that virtually ALL automation courses fail to help their students discover the many hundreds of different directions their skillsets could lead.
For example, you could end up as a service tech, a salesman, a PLC programmer, an electrician, a process and instrumentation tech or even a maintenance manager or a design engineer.
Keep in mind the company may want you because of your training to work with the design team to help them with specific technical knowledge.
So, don’t disregard the options above and believe me when I say there are literally hundreds of directions you could pursue.
8. How to Get Your First Job
Oh, this is a good one, I mean how can you teach a course and charge hundreds if not thousands of dollars and not teach a lesson about how to get a job with what your teaching them.
Seems odd to me, sort of like charging and teaching them something and then saying good luck finding someone who will pay you to use it.
While there may be naysayers to my comment here, I think it’s important to understand some of the challenge’s beginners will face in the job market and offer some advice and take some questions at a minimum.
For those who need a resource like this right now, follow this online magazine because this very subject is what we focus on.
9. Computer Networking
There is so much to learn about networking that an entire career field was created to manage it, the Information Technology field. However, you don’t need to learn everything they know but you don’t usually learn much if anything in an online course either. For example; how to set IP addresses, creating a numbering scheme for a machine or facility. Setting up VPN’s, remotely accessing to processors, troubleshooting networks, and a myriad of other lessons. As a recent graduate of an automation training program you’re going to struggle without this knowledge.