Creating clarity around instrumentation

Creating clarity around instrumentation

by John Beerwald, Electrogroup Instrumentation Trainer

Have you ever been in in the middle of an episode of Star Trek only to realise suddenly that you have no clue what all those gizmos, gadgets and other scientific instruments actually do?

If so, your problem is solved. Instruments and technical tools are used for viewing, displaying, recording and measuring.  Some of these devices end in “meter” instruments for measuring, “scope” instruments for viewing or “graph” instruments for displaying.

Welcome to the fascinating world of the Instrument Technician.

A dual-trade Electrician is one who has attained both the electrical as well as the instrumentation qualifications. Instrumentation, not to be confused with musical or surgical instruments, is defined as the art and science of measurement and control of process variables within a production or manufacturing area.

The process variables used in industries are level, pressure, temperature, density, humidity, flow, chemical measurements such as pH, conductivity and turbidity. Other measurements include force, speed, position and electrical measurements such as current, voltage and energy.

Without the ability to measure and control the above mentioned process variables, process industries from such diversities as power generation, water treatment plants, petrochemical through to coal and gold mining and chemical and food processing would barely exit.

Many of the measurements on which modern life, depends upon are hidden. Through the precise dimensions (measurement) and electrical properties of many components of a car or computer will make the difference between functioning and failure.

We all make measurements every day of our lives often not realising how often we glance at our watches, the speedometer of our car, the data usage on our electronic devices and less frequent figures on our power or gas bills. Our homes are protectedby such measurement devices such as smoke alarms, maintained by the measurement sensors in air conditioning units and temperature devices that maintain hot water systems at an even regulated temperature.

In any process industry, a measuring instrument is a device for measuring a physical quantity or variable process. The measuring device may be simple or complex but their function is to convert a physical quantity into a measurable electrical or pneumatic equivalent value. To maintain and calibrate measuring instruments, the technician must have a sound knowledge of physics and mathematics as well as calibrating techniques and protocols.

Finally, the Instrument Technician must have a sound knowledge of measurement standards which are used to define measurement units such as the meter, kilogram, temperature and time (second). It is important, in trade and commerce that sellers and buyers agree on accurate measurements and must agree on units, and conditions and methods of measurements to be used.

The risks involved in failing to calibrate and measure correctly could lead to safety incidents, wastage, fines or litigations and increased down time.

Having spent many years as an Instrument Technician across a variety of industries, the knowledge gained is portable and would provide employment in various fields. As technology continues to advance, instruments and instrumentation methodology is seldom far behind. Simply put, instrumentation is a never-ending learning curve with an increasing market demand.

With industry becoming increasingly automated, instrument technicians are needed virtually anywhere there are control and metering systems. Instrument technicians may be employed in the following industries:

  • pulp and paper processing
  • thermal power generation
  • mining, petrochemical and natural gas
  • industrial and commercial manufacturing
  • industrial construction
  • industrial instrument servicing

Experienced instrument technicians may advance to leadership positions such as Engineering Technicians, or move into business development.