Does PE licensing matter?

At the annual Control System Integrators Association conference for member executives in Savannah, GA, I took a moment away from my talk on the legalities of professional licensing to poll the audience: “Stand up if your company works on control systems.” Most everyone stood up. “Remain standing if your company employs at least one person with an engineering degree.

06/01/2008


At the annual Control System Integrators Association conference for member executives in Savannah, GA, I took a moment away from my talk on the legalities of professional licensing to poll the audience:

“Stand up if your company works on control systems.” Most everyone stood up.

“Remain standing if your company employs at least one person with an engineering degree.” A number of the executives sat down.

“Remain standing if your company employs at least one person who is a licensed professional engineer.” Half the room sat down.

“Remain standing if your company employs at least one person who has passed the CSE exam.” Only a handful were left standing.

What does this mean? In the event you are one of the few who did not already know it, the connection between professional licensing and the automation industry is tenuous at best. (And keep in the mind that the CSIA companies I was informally polling are at the very top of the expertise mountain of the integration world.)

Is this any sort of a problem? My answer is “no,” but there is an asterisk.

Here’s why I say “no.” It mainly has to do with a creation in North America called the “industrial exemption.” This exemption, which means different things depending on the state or province you are in, more or less amounts to a decree to the government agencies to keep their noses out of assembly lines and process facilities (“don’t stop industry from moving forward”).

In other words, long after government regulators decided that everything from embalmers to lawyers to hairdressers to furniture retailers (someone explain this one to me) needed to be licensed, industrial technicians were left alone. So, in essence, there is something of a tradition of industrial engineering being unlicensed.

Further helping to preserve the unlicensed environment, in my view, are two other effects: safety in numbers (“Wait, are you telling me you are proposing to put all of these unlicensed automation companies out of business?), and the inability of government to keep up with technology (for instance, “software engineers” are largely unlicensed—and software obviously is a huge part of control engineering).

But the “asterisk” part of my answer cannot be ignored either. First, there are sporadic efforts, including in this year, to eliminate the industrial exemption (and, to be sure, regulation can be said to be just one engineering catastrophe away).

Second, the current definition in most states of what constitutes the practice of “professional engineering” already seems to fit what persons in the automation industry do—even if it is not widely enforced. Third, at least one state, South Carolina, is already expressly clamping down on control system engineers: In a June 2007 ruling, the South Carolina licensing board made crystal clear that “systems integrators do need licensed engineers, qualified to provide control systems design, on their staff.”

Finally, the consequences of noncompliance, even if remote, may not be worth risking. Interestingly, it is not the risk of a state agency imposing a fine that is the chief worry. It is instead the prospect that another company may use the absence of a license as an excuse not to make payment.

Believe it or not, there are court decisions in more than one state that have backed up that argument—with rulings that an unlicensed engineer could not enforce its contract in court.


Author Information

Mark Voigtmann is a lawyer with Baker & Daniels, llp (Washington, DC, Indiana, and China). His group assists the automation and process industry in structuring projects and resolving disputes. Reach him at Mark.Voigtmann@bakerd.com or 317-237-1265.




No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.