PE Registration Versus ISA CAP Certification

Professional Engineers or Certified Automation Professional, Which Certification Is Best?

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My electrical PE has been valuable in my career. Those in the industry appreciate the effort involved in becoming licensed and many projects require a PE on staff.

PE and CAP benefits

My position as control systems engineering manager at KDC Systems has rarely called for me to stamp electrical drawings, but I constantly apply engineering principles in our work. Core members of our controls group include Mechanical PEs and Canadian PEs, and they bring exceptional value to our work.

I don’t hold a PE in control systems, but a former colleague of mine does. Control senior technical editor Dan Hebert, PE, says, “I passed the California Control Systems PE exam in the mid-1990s. I found the exam to be difficult, but quite fair, as it tested for real-world practical experience rather than theoretical knowledge.”

“I obtained a Louisiana Electrical Engineering PE a few years later. Because of comity, I only had to take a simple exam concerning principles and practices, with no technical test required,” adds Hebert.

“I wanted to get a PE because of its industry-wide recognition. I also needed it so that I could get licensed in other states,”  says Hebert. “For me, the benefits of the PE have exceeded the time and trouble required to obtain the certification.”

Should You Get a CAP?

With ISA’s backing, and a system that allows qualified people from many technical backgrounds to take the test, there is every reason to believe the CAP will continue to gain momentum. It offers an option that works specifically for the process control industries.

In my case, the CAP was another avenue for professional development. Studying for the test was a valuable way to revisit topics I don’t use on a daily basis and to identify areas where I needed improvement. The CAP tested me on topics outside of those covered by the electrical PE, but still key to a successful automation career.

Gerald Wilbanks, PE, vice-president at Documentation & Engineering Services in Birmingham, Ala., and member of the ISA CAP Steering Team, has produced a CSE PE study series for the ISA. He says, “CAP certification is a personal and professional attainment that provides documentation and clear proof that an individual has the tools and knowledge to work in the varied areas of automation. It has filled a true need by providing recognition for individual achievement for those who may or not be engineers.”

What’s Best for You?

Each person must decide which certification, if any, is more applicable to his or her work intent and career development. It is desirable to become both a PE and a CAP.

I would always encourage degreed engineers to pursue the PE in their discipline as soon as possible in their career. If you know you are focusing on the process control industries, then the CSE PE is a good option to obtain an official engineer title. However, keep in mind the possible limitations of the CSE PE not being a full practice act.

Likewise, obtaining the CAP should be a goal of all automation professionals. If you are already targeting the PE, then the CAP can be obtained concurrently or later. There is no downside to achieving widely accepted and high quality credentials in the control systems field. 

 


 

Paul Darnbrough PE, CAP, Engineering Manager,
KDC Systems,
www.kdc-systems.com

 


 

DEFINING THE CONTROL SYSTEMS FIELD

Technical disciplines always cover a range of subjects, but the control systems field is particularly wide-ranging. Even a straightforward control system design requires proficiency with physical processes, mechanical equipment, electrical power distribution, control panel design, instrument and valve selection, and much more.

The work must be performed in compliance with a variety of codes, standards, and regulations, and the design must be drawn and documented, test plans created and executed, and field commissioning performed.

Doctors, lawyers and accountants enter their professions by way of specific higher-level education and degrees. Control systems professionals, on the other hand, follow a variety of paths. Some are degreed electrical, mechanical or chemical engineers who gravitate to controls. Others are mechanics, maintenance personnel or technicians who become proficient with one type of equipment and then expand into other types or gain expertise with associated computer software.

Universities typically do not offer control systems degrees, and when they do, they are often math-based specialties or minors of other degrees. There is value in having a theoretical understanding of control algorithms, but much of the actual work in industry revolves around applying commercial off-the-shelf components to offer a complete solution.

How do you certify such a profession? The goal of the CSE PE and the CAP is to answer this question.

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