When you need a doctor, you typically seek out a board certified medical doctor because they have the experience, training, credentials, and the license from the state to practice medicine. You do not go to an herbalist or other nontraditional source of medical care.
Similarly, if you have a legal, accounting or tax problem, you do not count on the paralegal or bookkeeper to solve your problem, but instead retain the credentialed and licensed lawyer or CPA.
Why is it then that so many people trust their control systems to people that do not have the experience or credentials to perform the work?
Granted, learning how to program a PLC is a skill that can be picked up by anyone who is reasonably intelligent, which is why the field of control engineering and systems integration is filled with people who started out their careers as electricians or technicians, learned a little about control systems, and are now out offering their services to companies, doing design and implementing control systems.
So what certifications are available in the control engineering and systems integration field?
Control engineering and systems integration are sub branches of the general field of engineering. Just like doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. the states license who can legally practice engineering. The following is an excerpt from the statutes of the State of Kansas defining what an engineer is.
“Professional engineer” means a person who is qualified to practice engineering by reason of special knowledge and use of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences and the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design, acquired by engineering education and engineering experience, who is qualified as provided in K.S.A. 74-7001 et seq., and amendments thereto, to engage in the practice of engineering and who is licensed by the board.
“Practice of engineering” means any service or creative work, the adequate performance of which requires engineering education, training and experience in the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences to such services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning and design of engineering works and systems, the teaching of engineering by a licensed professional engineer in a college or university offering an approved engineering curriculum of four years or more, engineering surveys and studies, the observation of construction for the purpose of assuring compliance with drawings and specifications, representation in connection with contracts entered into between clients and others and the preparation and certification of any engineering design features that are required on plats; any of which embraces such service or work, either public or private, for any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, work systems, projects and industrial or consumer products or equipment of a mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic or thermal nature, insofar as they involve safeguarding life, health or property. As used in this subsection, “engineering surveys” includes all survey activities required to support the sound conception, planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of engineered projects, but excludes the surveying of real property for the establishment of land boundaries, rights-of-way, easements and the dependent or independent surveys or resurveys of the public land survey system.
Control systems are key to every process and machine in today’s world. If they are designed incorrectly the consequences are a machine that fails and hurts or kills someone, an environmental spill that pollutes a water supply for a city, a safety system that did not work correctly and caused a fire burning down a plant, etc., all of which by statute, are to be performed by a professional engineer.
Again borrowing from the Kansas Statutes. Technical professions; unlawful practice; representation and use of title. (a) Except as otherwise provided in this act, it shall be unlawful for any person to practice or to offer to practice in the state of Kansas, any profession included within the term technical professions, as such term is defined in the provisions of this act, unless such person has been duly licensed to practice such profession under this act or holds a certificate of authorization issued under K.S.A. 74-7036. (b) Any person practicing any technical profession in this state, or calling or representing such person as a licensed practitioner of such technical profession, or using the title of a licensed practitioner of such technical profession shall be required to submit evidence that such person is qualified to practice such technical profession and is duly licensed under this act or holds a certificate of authorization issued under K.S.A. 74-7036.
So in fact it is illegal for anyone to practice engineering without the proper license. Companies do not get into trouble with the state for hiring non licensed individuals to design and implement their control systems, but if something goes wrong, their insurance companies may not cover a claim if the work was performed by an unlicensed person or worse yet, if they are sued they will make the opposing council’s job much easier by not having a licensed individual on their project.
Other states have similar wordings on their books with regard to the definition of the practice of engineering and that it is illegal to do so without the proper license.
It should be noted that it is not illegal for the electrician or technician to program or assist in the design and implementation of a control system, provided they are performing that work under the direct supervision of a licensed engineer.
There is one other certification that is applicable to the field of controls and systems integration. It is the Certified Automation Professional (CAP) instituted by the International Society of Automation (ISA).
CAP is a program developed by the ISA to provide an advanced level of certification to those individuals who do not have the engineering educational background to obtain the professional engineering license. This program mimics many of the requirements of the professional engineering license, as to obtain this you have to have documented education, years of work experience, and sit for and pass an exam. There are also continuing education requirements just like what is needed to maintain the professional engineering license.
Just because it mimics the professional engineering license structure, does not mean it is equivalent to a professional engineering license. The CAP is not recognized by any state agency, and individuals holding a CAP certification, still must practice under the guidance of a professional engineer.
There are people in the systems integration marketplace that have other certifications, mainly Microsoft certifications, because many of the automation solutions these days require some heavy duty software interactions.
In conclusion, if you have a control system project or need, you will be best served by retaining a professional engineer to assist you in your project. The professional engineer will be able to design a system to meet your needs and safeguard life, health and property.