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Future Professions: ACS Engineer

инженер АСУ
© Форпост Северо-Запад

According to HeadHunter, the most in-demand specialists graduating from universities in 2021 were engineering and technical personnel. Of course, not all of those are in the same degree. What professions and why are quoted higher than others in the labour market?

The leader of the online retraining reported that the survey of employers revealed: they need the graduates of natural sciences (5%), teachers (6%), agriculture (7%), and medical/pharmaceutical (8%) the least. The highest interest is expressed by companies for former students of civil engineering (20%) and socio-economic (31%) faculties, as well as newly minted technicians (56%).

Experts note that the demand for engineers is due to the automation of production processes. However, there is a shortage of professionals in this field - technologies appear faster than educational programs are updated. As a result, the demand for ACS engineers (automated process control systems) is growing exponentially, which is reflected in the competition for specialized universities.

St. Petersburg Mining University graduate student Vladimir Payor was born and grew up in Krasnoyarsk. The young man graduated from physics and mathematics school. Back in high school, he participated in thematic championships. For example, in the 20th regional contest of IT projects Soft Parade held among the talented developers of the Siberian Federal District, the young man won in one of the categories with the project “Augmented reality”. The peculiarity of the competition was its focus on the real needs of the market. After graduation, the young specialist faced the choice of his future path.

Владимир Пайор
© Конкурс Soft-parad 2013

“There are not too many professions that are at the intersection of physics and computer science, hardware, and software. Usually, you have to choose - either you’re an engineer or an IT specialist. Automation is one of the few occupations that lies between these fields. It allows you to be a programmer, an electrical engineer, and a technologist at the same time,” says Vladimir.

Study. Where?

In 2015, the young man started to study under the “Automation of technological processes and productions” program at Mining University. He explains his choice for several reasons at once.

"Mineral and raw materials complex is the fundamental industry of Russia. There are much more career prospects for an ACS engineer versed in the raw materials sector than for others. There was no point in studying at educational institutions that specifically train IT specialists. Programming itself is 90% self-taught. Teachers in this discipline give the fundamental base, but an automation engineer is a practitioner, who uses the ready-made developments to applied tasks. There is an opinion that it is not so important for him to work in what sphere - ATM, rocket, oil and gas field, or metallurgical works. For an employee there are only inputs and outputs, acting on which they can control any process. However, it is the knowledge of production technologies that contributes to anin-depth understanding of operations and building more efficient work," explains the postgraduate.

Инженер АСУ
© Пресс-служба компании "Газпром нефть"

According to him, the university provides a research environment and an opportunity to get acquainted with modern automation tools in the university’s laboratories - a complete conveyor line, control cabinets, controllers, and much more. A real example of an assignment for students looks like follows: write software that allows a video camera to recognize a defective product, pick it up with a robotic arm, and place it either in the defect compartment or on a conveyor line.

ACS Engineer Job Description

Typically, any automation system consists of three levels. The first is what is directly controlled (various actuators). The second - the controllers. This is the brain and heart of the whole structure. They receive signals from sensors and, depending on the laid-down program, coordinate the actions. Additionally, they process and archive the information about the course of the whole process. The third part is the united centre of the operator’s control in the form of one or more panels, to which many controllers are connected.

Specialist functions depend on the stage of the automation system in the company. Whether only equipment maintenance is required; development of the project from scratch, the selection of components and implementation, or modernization and integration with business processes. In essence, these are three different options and three different levels of qualification of the engineer.

In the first case, the employee controls the input data and, if necessary, changes the course of the operation: speed, temperature, pressure and other characteristics. They must know how the automation system is set up and what technological processes are affected. If it is set up incorrectly, it can cause serious damage. For example, in the oil and gas industry, the ACS can control several pumps. If an error occurs, there is a risk of damaging the entire reservoir - up to and including production stoppage, which will lead to losses and decrease the profitability of the entire production.

инженер АСУ
© Пресс-служба компании «СУЭК-Кузбасс»

In the second case, an employee should know the order and ways of development of projects of automation systems, be able to perform installation and commissioning of installations, program industrial controllers.

Even higher qualification is needed for the development of the existing system following the latest innovations and combining automation of technological and business processes, accounting, human resources, logistics, and other structures of the company into a single whole. And a professional of a high level can change technological processes to increase productivity: to make something work faster, to radically rearrange another part of the process, and to exclude outdated structures.

Career opportunities

ACS engineers today work in construction, engineering, and instrumentation, but the bulk of the transformation is occurring in the energy and mineral industries.

Currently, the following flagships of digital transformation can be identified: Gazprom Neft in the oil and gas sector, SUEK, Evraz and Severstal - in mining, Rosseti - in the power sector. Solution providers include Schneider Electric, Metso, Outotec and Russia's Digital.

“In postgraduate school, I plan to work on synchronization tools for digital twins and real production facilities. And after I finish my research, I see myself as a developer of innovative software solutions for the metallurgical industry on the staff of an ACS vendor company. Within the raw material's complex, there are more and less interesting directions for developers, and students still in the process of learning choose in which area they want to develop. The oil and gas industry in Russia is automated by 80%, only the nuclear industry is higher. Here they control the flow of liquid and gas, regulate temperature and pressure. Metallurgy and mining represent a wider area of work. They are less automated and are characterized by more complex processes. Tools that can be developed for them are not used in the oil industry in principle because of their peculiarities. These include conveyors, feeders, batchers, furnaces, mills, thickeners, material feeding systems, and video cameras," says the young scientist.

инженер АСУ
© Пресс-служба компании "Евраз"

According to him, the specifics of metallurgy is the fact that ACS engineers give a small increase in productivity: 2-3% from one development. But if you recalculate it in terms of money, with a turnover of hundreds of thousands of tons, you get millions of dollars a year.

Earnings statistics

Income is directly correlated to the experience of the employee and the region. In addition, it matters whether the place of work will be a manufacturing company or a company that is a supplier of information technology and automation system components for raw materials organizations.

At the entry-level in St. Petersburg or Moscow, the salary of a specialist starts at 60-70 thousand rubles per month. After working for a year or two, they can already count on a sum of 100 thousand rubles. An employee capable of upgrading and implementing new solutions receives 180-200 thousand rubles. A professional engaged in transforming technological processes earns from 300 thousand rubles.

The situation when an engineer in a large Russian oil and gas company can build a career up to the Head of the Automatic Process Control Administration with a monthly salary of 700 thousand rubles is quite realistic. His area of responsibility will include purchasing equipment, communicating with contractors, drafting technical specifications, and monitoring their implementation.

If ACS engineers in megacities may face competition in the labour market, in Siberia they will not be the ones to be chosen. The demand for specialists willing to work on a rotational basis in the staff of production companies in Noyabrsk or Surgut is highest. The salary will be different there thanks to the northern allowances.

инженер АСУ
© Пресс-служба компании "Евраз"

Different countries regularly conduct opinion polls about compatriots who have had the greatest influence on national history. In Italy, Leonardo da Vinci is in the first place, in England, the engineer Isambard Brunel, who in the 19th century built many bridges, roads and tunnels, is right after Churchill. In Russia, however, for many years first places, up to and including the 1950th, were invariably taken by political figures. Today the situation is changing.

For comparison: even today on HeadHunter only in St. Petersburg, automation engineers are three times more needed than economists, and 20% more than lawyers.