This fall I worked at RoviSys in Aurora, Ohio, as a Systems Co-op. RoviSys is an automation and information solutions company, and as a Systems Co-op, I worked mainly with process control systems. Most of my work fell into one of three categories: PLC coding, graphics configuration, and documentation.
I would say my understanding of myself, in terms of what exactly it is that I want to do full-time upon graduation, grew and transformed while completing my STEP Signature Project. RoviSys is an automation company, as I mentioned above, which means that most of the engineers who work there studied Electrical Engineering. Granted, there were a handful of Chemical Engineers, the majority were Electrical. The connection between Electrical Engineering and automation is one I knew very little about until I actually worked there. This experience helped me realize that although there is potential in the automation industry for Chemical Engineers, like myself, it is not the field I want to pursue for the rest of my life.
As much as I loved the relationships I formed and the events that transpired throughout my time at RoviSys, the day-to-day work was not something I was incredibly thrilled about. The automation industry is without a doubt extremely interesting and valuable, but it is not my passion. Although I did not dread the work I did at all, I would not say I loved it. To better explain the work that I was doing, I will elaborate on the three categories of my work that I mentioned earlier on.
On the process control side of RoviSys, engineers work with PLCs to automate certain systems for clients. PLCs are Programmable Logic Controllers and coding them allows the end user to run their system autonomously. I worked within the Life Sciences division at RoviSys, so most of my clients were pharmaceutical companies that wanted to automate their batch system that synthesizes some medicine or nutrition drink for them. Writing code into the PLCs would allow these companies to set parameters ahead of time and with the touch of a few buttons, their entire system would then run on its own. This is extremely valuable for these companies, as it removes the necessity of having Process Engineers monitoring and adjusting these systems by hand, at all times. As a Chemical Engineer, coding is not my strong suit, but these PLCs do not run on typical, linear code. It uses logic-based code and is often much more visual. I got to work with ladder logic, sequential function charts, and functional block diagrams. Writing these kinds of code was actually somewhat enjoyable.
As I just mentioned, the end user of our services would be able to set parameters ahead of time and run their entire system with the touch of a few buttons. But where exactly are the buttons that they’re touching? And what does that even mean? This is where the graphics configuration comes in. Not only would we write code for PLCs, but we would also create HMI graphics that would allow the end user to easily set up and manipulate whatever system it is they’re working with. HMI stands for Human Machine Interface, and it is how the end user communicates to the PLC and system as a whole. Picture a touch-screen desktop, or a tablet – that is the physical HMI. The end user can configure whatever settings it is they want their system to be under within this HMI. They’re able to start, pause, and stop their whole system using this HMI. They’re able to make changes and adjustments to the system, all through this HMI. This is once again extremely valuable for clients, as it removes the need for engineers to go into the manufacturing area and manually configure valves, pumps, switches, etc. What we would do at RoviSys is create the graphics that show up on this HMI and write the logic within them to allow the user to manipulate the system just by pressing certain buttons. I would say creating graphics was also somewhat enjoyable, as a lot of it was visual and intuitive.
Lastly, as I worked within the Life Sciences division, there was a lot of documentation associated with everything we did, as much of our work ends up being looked over by the FDA. More than any other division within RoviSys, good documentation was incredibly important. At the start of a project, a Functional Specification (FS) had to be written that would outline everything the project was going to entail, and how the logic/code was going to be written. It wasn’t until this document was completed and approved by the client that we could actually start working on writing code and making graphics. Then, as we did write code, any changes or additions that were made to the logic had to be documented and added to the FS. Upon completion of all code and graphics changes, an Installation/Operational Qualification (IOQ) document is created to test every aspect of the code, as well as all major logic within the graphics, to make sure everything works as expected. All tests would have to be conducted and signed before going over the document with the client and eventually implementing the system on-site with the client. This documentation was extremely tedious, and at times not very enjoyable.
This realization that automation is not my passion, and transformation/growth as an engineering student is valuable to my life for many reasons. First, learning that something is not what you want to do for the rest of your life is very common, and a often major step in discovering what it is you want to do. As a Chemical Engineer, I hear time and time again that once I graduate, I’ll never use the knowledge I have from being in school, and that instead, Chemical Engineers are just extremely well-prepared to work in any engineering industry. This is fairly stressful to think about, but I saw it first-hand at RoviSys. There were many Chemical Engineers there who said they don’t use any of the knowledge they learned in school, but they still love what they do. Working at an automation company taught me that automation is not my passion, but it also showed me what it’s like to apply the problem-solving skills I’ve gained as an engineering student towards an industry I once knew nothing about. As far as academics, I now have a better idea of what classes I would like to take as an upperclassman at Ohio State, and how I can specialize my technical electives to learn more about things I am passionate about. In the long run, when I am considering internships and full-time jobs, I will again be better prepared to pursue something I really care about, as opposed to taking whatever positions are open. Additionally, working for a company that prioritizes the customer taught me real-world soft skills like teamwork, communication, and appropriate customer service. I also got to grow my network and form meaningful relationships within a company that I have the potential to go back to.