By Tom Olin
The Automation Division of Remmele Engineering designs and builds custom automated manufacturing systems for a diversified group of industries. Custom infers a high level of engineering contentour typical system contains approximately twice the level of engineering content as it does manufacturing content.
Finding and training qualified engineering resources to implement the unique skills we need is a challenge. One avenue we use is our Electrical Engineering Co-op Program. Sophomore or junior-level EE candidates join one of our engineering teams full-time for eight months, during which they receive hands-on control engineering training. Most students return for an additional three-month term between their junior and senior years. By completing the program, these students gain a full year of practical experience over and above what their peers possess. The program is divided into six sessions, each one lasting between two and eight weeks.
In the orientation session, the student is assigned a mentor and trained to become familiar with the divisions safety guidelines. On-the-job training is introduced, and the candidate supports an automation project in its final stages of commissioning to gain a basic understanding of all the engineering process requirements.
Next, students receive formal and on-the-job training in AutoCAD, as well as with the divisions engineering database system, ISO 9002 Quality Management System, and Engineering Guidelines during preliminary hardware design training. The candidate then supports an existing project in its hardware design phase.
To become familiar with the detailed engineering requirements of the hardware design process, the third session provides candidate training on sensors, transducers, power distribution, PLC system hardware, component specification, motor sizing, and drive sizing. Upon completion, the candidate supports a new project beginning its hardware design phase to build proficiency.
In the fourth session, hardware manufacturing training, the candidate becomes familiar with government regulations and their applications to automated equipment. The student supports a panel-building project to learn the electrical manufacturing process. Reading assignments include NFPA 70, National Electric Code; NFPA 79, Electrical Standard for Industrial Machinery; and UL 508, Underwriters Laboratories Standards.
To become familiar with the detailed engineering requirements of software design, Session 5 provides training to develop programs for PLC systems and HMI systems according to our application programming guidelines.
In the final session, the student is trained to support a project just beginning the power-on and debug phase, to gain an understanding of debugging, testing, and commissioning methodologies.
Remmele gets three bonuses from the program. First, by the end of the third or fourth month, most co-op students have enough proficiency that a portion of their time can be charged to the projects theyre working on. This helps us defer a portion of the programs administrative cost.
Second, most co-op candidates are self-starters by nature. They generally have high levels of initiative and responsibility, and have above-average grades. These individuals seem to fare best in our custom type of engineering environment, and as a result weve hired several former co-op candidates as associate control engineers after they graduated.
Finally, were a small company by corporate standards. Recruiting for candidates against big companies at major engineering universities across the Midwest can be an onerous task. Our co-op-recruiting network in many cases introduces us to the best candidates before the big companies know they exist. The program also provides the opportunity to discuss our company with the deans and professors who run these institutions.
Thus far, three of my best control engineers came to Remmele on the recommendation of a dean or professor.
Tom Olin, control engineering supervisor, automation division, at Remmele Engineering, St. Paul, Minn., is an EE with 30 years of practical experience in automated control systems. Learn more at www.remmele.com.