The SAIMC NPC’s official name, as registered at the CIPC, is SAIMC NPC, registration number 2010/014751/0, and was derived from the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control. The SAIMC NPC aims to be the ‘Voice of Automation’ in sub-Saharan Africa and as such joined the Automation Federation where it aims to create a formal Automation Engineering discipline.
Before automation became a buzzword, the people working in this field were known as control and instrumentation (C&I) specialists. Control and instrumentation referred to the whole control cycle, from initial measurement obtained from an instrument, to the final control output.
As control elements improved and the people’s understanding of the technology grew, the control and instrumentation building blocks were integrated into complete systems, and control and instrumentation became automation. No longer was automation limited to the electrical and computer fields and it expanded to other engineering disciplines such as civil, mechanical, etc.
The SAIMC lobbied the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) for a separate Automation Engineering discipline. It was not that automation required new development of course modules, but rather to combine subjects at educational institutions differently in order for students to get to grips with the techniques of automation in the various other engineering disciplines.
The Mechanical Departments of education institutions also saw this growing need and developed the Mechatronics qualification. In South Africa, ECSA has just released a draft document called “Overarching Code of Practice for Performance of Engineering Work”. Although there is no reference to automation, there is a reference to mechatronics as a separate engineering discipline.
Automation is such a wide field that it covers the automation and control of chemical processes like distillation columns, various types of reactors and more. It also covers the control of mechanical devices such as found in the anti-surge of compressors and shut-off valves, variable speed drives, etc., as well as the automation of business processes, buildings, etc.
The board of the SAIMC, after a survey of its members, decided to support the efforts of industry and ECSA by including mechatronics within its long name, to indicate the close relationship between automation principles and the systems being controlled by them. Although mechatronics was ‘born’ in the mechanical department, it adopts the technologies found within automation as a major part of its activities.
Several universities in South Africa are now offering engineering qualifications in mechatronics. The final two years have a strong focus on control, measurement and automation. The automation industry is also the primary employer of these graduates, according to Proffesor B. van Wyk, NMU.
The SAIMC is excited about the expansion of engineering disciplines within ECSA. With this change the SAIMC will support the newly envisaged mechatronics discipline as the scope is broadened to cover not only the mechanical field, but also to chemical, building and other disciplines.
Yours in automation, Johan Maartens.
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