Loreto Secondary, Dublin City University, Cork Institute of Technology (now know as Munster Technological University)
GCSEs & A Levels (Irish equivalent) , Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Applied Physics & Instrumentation.
Waitress, General Operative (in food packaging)
Control Systems Engineer (Senior Engineer)
Capula Ltd. – A leading independent system integrator for control, automation and operational intelligence systems for all applications and industry sectors.
Favourite thing to do in my job: Troubleshooting software, working out why it's doing the thing it shouldn't and fixing it
I am a Senior Engineer, developing software for Control Systems. In my spare time, I like to go hiking and travelling.
I am originally from Tipperary in Ireland but have lived in Staffordshire for just under 10 years.
My favourite place to go hiking is Scotland, especially along the coast. My biggest hike was for charity when myself and co-workers climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
I have travelled further than Tanzania, I went to Japan for a camping holiday in 2019 (just prior to the pandemic).
I also enjoy photography (especially of birds, I am a member of the RSPB) and crafts such as cross-stitch and knitting.
My favourite book is ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and I like to think I have seen most of the film/ tv adaptations of it.
I programme industrial computers that monitor and control machinery (pumps, valves, thermostats etc.) in a manufacturing or processing industry – such as handling dangerous materials in a chemical factory.
I develop industrial control systems; this is where an industrial computer monitors and controls the machinery located around the factory (can be just within a building or spread across multiple buildings or even locations) via a control room operated by factory workers (the people who run the factory).
My work usually centres around projects, each project usually being one control system and I have described an example project below.
When a chemical company (for example) has a new process or are building a new factory they will send the details to a company like mine ( I work for a Systems Integrator – they integrate (join) the hardware to the control system (software)), who then respond with how long it will take and how much it will cost, this is their bid (I am sometimes involved in this stage to check that what they are asking is physically possible).
If we win the bid, I am given the full process design details with a list of hardware and have to decide how to make it all work in the best way possible. (Where I have said I, usually it’s a team of people depending on the size of the project).
Documents will be developed which will detail what will be included and how I am going to do the control system, as well as raising any issues I have found e.g. they want an alarm for a tank if it reaches a high temperature but they haven’t included a thermometer. These documents will be sent to the customer (Chemical factory). They usually make comments which are incorporated into the design and checked again before the customer gives us the go ahead to make the control system.
The control system itself will usually be made up of the following items; industrial computers (PLCs – programmable logic controllers), a SCADA system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system) this is the computer program that will be displayed to the operators (factory workers in charge of operating the factory) in the control room showing the factory and all the details, control stations (a mix of desktop computers, laptops and touchscreens), servers (holds the SCADA system and all the data for the control stations). These are all interconnected using Ethernet or fibre cables.
I am involved with programming the PLCs and SCADA systems, while one of my co-workers will handle setting up the servers and control stations.
To programme the PLCs and SCADA systems I will follow the documents that were accepted by the customer. If I spot any issues during the development of the programs, I will raise it will the customer and make changes as required (either to the software or the document).
The PLC will be used to talk with the machinery and devices in the factory; receiving information and sending commands. Commands will be sent either automatically through the PLC program or if a command is received from the control stations via the SCADA system.
The SCADA system is used by the operators to start and stop factory operations (processes they are following e.g. making a dye) or to manually command devices. It will also display the status of the control system; diagnostics to show if any hardware or device is not healthy, alarms and warning messages, process status (if your chemical factory makes different colour dyes– the control system will show if red dye is being made or blue dye.)
Once I am happy (I do have a timetable to work to but it can be flexible) that the PLCs and SCADA systems have been programmed fully, I will put the systems into test. To test the system, we use a virtual factory and a test specification.
I usually develop the virtual factory (sometimes called a simulation) alongside the PLC code, this will mimic how the devices will respond to inputs and generate outputs.
A test specification (a big document which details how the system should behave) will have been developed during the design to prove what I have created matches the design.
First, I will do a ‘shakedown test’, I will run through the systems and make sure they work as expected. I will then hand over the system to another engineer who will run through the system against the test specification, this means I am not checking my own work. This will be an in depth check, e.g. they will check the text is the correct font, the colours used are correct, the wording is correct and that each process and device functions correctly. The customer will then be invited in to test the system themselves; this gives the operators from the factory a chance to run the system and make any changes prior to it being installed.
Once the control system is accepted, it is installed in the factory. The system will then be tested again to prove it works with the physical factory equipment. Additional changes can then be made on site if required.
All the documentation will be reissued to match the control system as installed, this is called the ‘As-built’ issue and the project is then closed. (All the information of the project is retained in the event further changes are required, or an issue arises at the factory. It is just archived away.)
My Typical Day: I start work around 8am, always start with an e-mail check and see what meetings I have for the day. Depending on where I am on a control system I will either spend the day working on documents or working on software. Then I finish around 5pm depending on what work needs to be done.
I am required to work 37.5 hours a week, which is 7.5 hours a day however we do have flexi-time. Which means I get to start and finish when I want, all I have to do is be around for the core hours 10am-3pm. I usually start at 8am so I can have an early finish on Friday.
I start my day with an e-mail and meetings check. Not everyone works the same hours or even the same timezone so I usually have one or two waiting for me in the morning. If I have meetings, I will make sure I have everything ready for them rather then searching round five minutes before they start.
I usually work on two projects at a time, so I will have some form of software or documents to work on. I also check documents for other projects so if what I am working on is getting boring I can stop for a bit and do something different.
I prefer to work on documents in the morning, 9am to midday. Then I stop for my lunch, go for a walk to get away from my computer. Then in the afternoon, I will work on some software. I find the software a lot more interesting and can avoid that mid-afternoon slump.
My day will also be broken up with project meetings (usually one a day) and tea breaks where I can chat with my co-workers away from my desk.
I finish around 5pm depending on the amount of work that needs to be done for that day or week. If a deadline for issuing a document or software is coming, I will work later to get it done.
What I'd do with the money
Rasberry Pi’s and programable robots kits, let people (all ages) program the robots and see them move. Hopefully get them interested in programming.
When I was at university my favourite module was programming lego-robots and seeing them drive around a track. The program was very simple and I got to see the result straight away.
I would like use the prize money to do STEM events to get people to have a similar reaction that I did. To have that “I did that, I made that robot move” reaction after writing a few lines of code that they might have originally thought was difficult but was just copy and paste with a few words changed. Hopefully with more than one robot so they can progress from programming a robot car to go round a track to programming a robotic spider or getting a robotic arm to pick up things.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Control Systems Engineer
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Operating the control system that I helped create
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My mum, she always said to do what made you happy even if that meant changing your mind a few times
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Run a doggy day care centre
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Sledging in a snowy volcanic park in California, in the middle of July.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Never have to worry about money, be able to bring a pet to work, be fit and healthy
Tell us a joke.
What did the terminator say when asked why he wouldn't upgrade to Windows 10? "I still love Vista, baby!"