I am happy to announce that I have recently completed the requirements to officially become an International Society of Automation (ISA) Certified Automation Professional (ISA CAP).
Per ISA, Certified Automation Professionals are responsible for the direction, definition, design, development/application, deployment, documentation, and support of systems, software, and equipment used in control systems, manufacturing information systems, systems integration, and operational consulting. In a nut shell, that describes much of what we do at DMC, in particular for the Manufacturing Automation and Intelligence field.
The ISA CAP Requirements include 5 years of work experience (10 years if you do not have a 4 year technical degree) and passing a four hour multiple choice test. I've been in this field for about 10 years now and I have an Electrical Engineering degree, so the work experience and education requirements were no issue.
For the test, I was not sure what to expect before hand. Would it be easy or challenging? I found little to no information online about the certification process, exam difficulty and content, and how much I should study, other than the generic official information on ISA's website. Initially I went through a handful of the practice questions and a lot of them were no-brainers for someone who has done a significant amount of project management and automation engineering (a typical DMC employee). I ended up ordering the ISA Guide to the Automation Body of Knowledge text book, as almost all of the test questions are derived from it.
Studying for the test was interesting and enlightening. I spent probably 16 - 20 hours total studying, including taking the practice test questions ISA gives you when you register. I viewed the approximately 500 page text book as not just a study guide, but an opportunity to learn more in certain areas. For example, I enjoyed reading through some of the sections in the book that discuss different valve types (I was not as familiar with that part of the material since I don't have a mechanical degree). Other areas were largely review for me, so I quickly skimmed them. Portions discussing project management were mostly common sense to someone who has worked at an organization with the automation project infrastructure of DMC (ROI, feasibility studies, risk management, etc.). However, there were a few formulas to be learned. I learned a little bit more about process control; I am not an expert in that area relative to some of my co-workers. There were some basic reliability equations I needed to learn from the book as well. It felt validating to already know so much of the technical details in the book. For example, I have spent more than enough time working with VFDs (variable frequency drives) to know that a 4 pole asynchronous AC motor runs at approximately 1800 RPM at 60 Hz, and to be able to derive the pole-frequency-RPM relationship from that.
On the day I was taking the actual exam, I 'formally' went through the entire set of test questions that ISA gave me. More of the questions than I expected were challenging; I was expecting the practice test to be a breeze. I'm sure if I had had more time, I would have easily spent another 8 hours or so studying.
When I took the actual exam, I was given four hours to complete it. Some of the questions were definitely challenging. But all in all, I was well prepared, as it took me less than 2.5 hours. I don't know what my score was, or how close I was to passing (they won't give you that information).
In the end we have one more certification here at DMC and we have measured our automation and project management knowledge and capabilities against one more measuring stick. I also have the benefits of being listed in ISA's Certified Automation Professional database and the opportunity to purchase and wear a cool ISA CAP polo shirt.
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