Posts Tagged ‘Energy’

The ABC’s of Photonics Technician Jobs

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

In 2009, ATE’s National Center for Optics and Photonics Education conducted a survey which found that to keep up with industry demand, U.S. employers will need to add approximately 1,200 new photonics technicians each year through 2014. Photonics is “the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon.” The demand for technicians trained in its applications is not surprising — it turns out there’s hardly an industry in existence that doesn’t require workers with this expertise. From Agriculture to Engineering, from Environmental Technology to Homeland Security, as well as Manufacturing, Medicine and Transportation, there’s a growing need for photonics technicians. (See full list below.)

We turned to the National Photonics Skill Standards for Technicians to learn about a few of these wide-ranging career opportunities and to better understand what the jobs entail. (With so many industries to choose from, we decided to start at the beginning of the alphabet.)

A is for Aerospace. Photonics technicians are critically important to the aerospace and national defense industries. Why? Because unlike using conventional electronic energy, the photonics devices must be resistant to electromagnetic interference. In this industry, light energy is specifically used in infrared systems and image processing. Technicians work with engineers and scientists to construct, test, operate and maintain systems for all kinds of spacecraft and national defense control systems. Specific job responsibilities might include operating, installing, calibrating, troubleshooting and repairing equipment.

On a typical day, a photonics technician in the aerospace industry might find himself or herself collecting and recording data, operating test equipment, performing lab tests, developing tests to ensure quality control, modifying procedures to solve specific problems, or laying out experimental circuits to test scientific theories.

B is for Biomedicine. Biomedical optics and medical imaging are key components of the health care industry, and photonics technicians play key roles in their operations.

According to the Photonics Skill Standards, photonics technicians in medicine work in hospitals and research facilities to install, inspect, maintain and repair complex equipment and instruments used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Equipment might specifically include electronic devices, optical components, diagnostic scanners, ultrasound equipment, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines and lasers used in surgery.

Day-to-day responsibilities could include inspecting and testing equipment to make sure it complies with performance and safety standards. If you go into Biomedicine, you might also find yourself handling equipment maintenance to head off problems and prevent small problems from becoming serious issues. Technicians also might find themselves dissembling equipment to locate malfunctioning components, replacing defective parts, and then reassembling the equipment. Once those tasks are complete, you might also be responsible for adjusting and calibrating the equipment to make sure it’s operating according to manufacturer specifications. Keeping careful records of machine repairs and maintenance checks is another essential component of the job.

C is for Communication (including fiber optics, transmitters and sensors). If you’re a photonics technician who chooses a career in the Communication field, you are likely to wind up working for a company that uses optical fiber capable of carrying telephone voice services across local regional and nationwide networks. Which companies, you ask? It could be any corporation, bank, university or other large entity that depends on private networks to transmit digital data. You might also wind up working for a cable television or community antenna television (CATV) company, both of which use optical fiber systems to transmit signals to subscribers via video. On any given day, you might work with sophisticated electronic test equipment as well as fusion splicers, optical power meters and laser sources and detectors.

Still curious about the rest of the alphabet? Here are some more industries where photonics applications — and photonics technicians — are integral to business.

Agriculture – Uses satellite remote sensing to detect large-scale crop effects, scanning technology and infrared imaging to monitor food production and quality, and sensor systems for planting and irrigation.

Construction – Includes scanning site topography, laser bar-code readers to inventory materials, laser distance measuring and alignment, and three-dimensional analysis to track the progress of construction.

Engineering, microtechnology, and nanotechnology
– Uses lasers in the manufacture of electrical devices, motors, engines, semiconductor chips, circuits, and computers; via photolithography, photonics is central to production.

Environmental technology – Uses ultraviolet Doppler optical absorption spectroscopy (UV-DOAS) to monitor air quality; uses fast Fourier transform analysis to monitor particulate matter in effluents released from stacks.

Geographic information systems and global positioning
– Uses optics and photonics in imaging and image processing to refine atmospheric and space-based images.

Information technology – Uses optics for data storage, ultrafast data switching, and (especially) transmission of data across fiber-optic networks.

Chemical technology
– Relies on molecular optical spectroscopy for analysis and on ultra-short laser pulses to induce fluorescence; chemical vapor deposition and plasma etching support photonics thin film applications.

Transportation – Uses optics for monitoring exhaust emissions to ensure the integrity of shipping containers arriving from foreign ports, and navigation with ring laser gyroscopes .

Homeland security – DNA scanning, laser forensics, retinal scanning, identification of dangerous substances, optical surveillance.

Manufacturing
– Laser welding, drilling, and cutting; precision measurements.

Energy Technician Education Summit

Friday, December 17th, 2010
Photo Courtesy of the AACC

Photo Courtesy of the AACC

This week’s Episode of ATETV features the Segment “Gearing Up for the Energy Workforce.” So, it seems particularly timely that the broadcast coincides with the recent National Energy Technician Education Summit, which was held in Washington December 8-10.

Hosted by the Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center (ATEEC) and the American Association of Community Colleges, the summit brought together representatives from the worlds of education, industry, and government to focus on the ways that community colleges can meet the current and future needs for technicians in the energy sector, an industry propelled by growing demands for alternative energies and a growing need to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

According to a story appearing on the website of the Community College Times, summit participants agreed that a combination of technical skills and “soft skills” are required for the job of energy technician. On the technical side, aptitudes in math, science, data analysis and mechanical and information technology were cited as necessary for the field. And employers at the summit agreed that they also seek employees who possess “soft” skills such as the ability to speak and write clearly, to solve problems, to work on a team, and to think critically.

As Daniel Lance, global training leader for GE Energy Renewables told the Community College Times, “Give me a technician that’s got a good, solid fundamental understanding of electrical theory, power generation, safety and some work experience [and] I can take that resource and teach [him] the specifics of the GE technology that they need.”

Another area of focus at the three-day long event was energy efficiency. As we heard from students and teachers at Sinclair Community College in this week’s Episode, energy efficiency measures begin one building at a time. But, with nearly 5 million commercial buildings in North America, these measures wind up having widespread environmental and economic impact — and create a significant demand for energy technicians who know how to efficiently operate building systems. As New York State Energy Research and Development Authority project manager Kimberlie Lenihan told the Community College Times, “We need whole-building thinkers.”

A summit summary will be posted at the ATEEC web site and the ATEEC will publish a full report on the National Energy Technician Summit next spring. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about alternative energy, energy efficiency and workforce trends for energy technicians, check out additional resources at the Community College Times.

Word of the Day: Nacelle

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Wind TurbineDo you think you have a good vocabulary? Here’s one for you: What is the definition of “nacelle”? We’ll give you a few clues.

Clue #1: A wind turbine couldn’t function without one. Wind turbines are the towering windmill-style mechanisms that convert the flow of wind into the mechanical motion that is used to produce electricity. Today, wind power accounts for about 50 percent of our country’s renewable energy and, according to the American Wind Energy Association, is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world today. Among the more than 8,000 parts that make up a wind turbine are three major components: the blades, the tower and the nacelle.

Clue #2: They frequently require the services of Wind Techs. Wind Turbine Service Technicians, or “wind techs” are the men and women who provide regular maintenance for wind turbines — especially the nacelles. According to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wind techs are capable of diagnosing and fixing any problem that might require a wind turbine to shut down, and they perform much of their daily work in nacelles.

Clue #3: They’re bigger than the proverbial bread box, and sometimes large enough for a helicopter to land upon.

If, by now, you’re thinking that the nacelle is the “brain” of the wind turbine, you’re right. Derived from the French word for “small boat,” the nacelle is the compact space that houses the turbine’s gears, generator and other mechanical components. The nacelle also contains the complex electronic components that enable the turbine to monitor changes in wind speed and direction in order to turn wind into useable energy. (To learn more, check out “How Wind Turbines Work” from the U.S. Department of Energy.)

And, if the nacelle is the brain of the wind turbine, then Wind Techs are the brain surgeons, keeping these complex components functioning smoothly. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wind Turbine Service Technicians actually perform the majority of their daily work inside the nacelles’ compact space at the top of the tower, as they clean and lubricate shafts, bearings, gears and other machinery, and troubleshoot potential generator problems. Wind techs may also work outside on top of the nacelle, hundreds of feet in the air, replacing the instruments that measure wind speed and direction.

Training programs in wind turbine maintenance are offered at community colleges across the country, and generally include course work in basic turbine design, diagnositics, control and monitoring systems, as well as basic turbine repair. Many programs, like the one at Laramie County Community College featured in this week’s Episode, also offer students hands-on training. Check out the Windustry web site for a full list of educational programs.

And, just think, you’re already ahead of the game — you know what a nacelle is. (For extra credit, check out some other wind-energy “vocabulary” words at The Energy Bible.)

LEED-ing the Way

Friday, August 6th, 2010

leed_certification

What is LEED?

This week, Sinclair Community College student Senya Oji-Njideka described the school’s Civil Engineering Technology program, which emphasizes energy conservation and energy analysis. In the course of his description, he mentioned several national programs being implemented to help save energy. One of those is the LEED building certification program — we did a little more homework to find out what LEED is all about and why it’s critical to Architectural Technology students — or anyone who is interested in buildings, and in the future of the planet.

LEED actually stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The voluntary certification program was at the forefront of the energy conservation effort, established in 1998 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). If a building has been “LEED-certified” it means that it is environmentally sound, constructed with materials and methods that are water-efficient and energy-efficient. It also means that it was designed with an eye to reduced carbon emissions and improved indoor air quality.

Within the U.S., more than 15,000 buildings have been LEED-certified, and that number is increasing as businesses and institutions become more concerned with the environment. Certification is based on a point-based ranking, and a building gains points based on seven different categories: Energy and Atmosphere; Sustainable Site; Indoor Environmental Air Quality; Materials and Resources; Water Efficiency; and Innovation in Design. Points are given for such things as using low-emitting materials in painting, flooring and adhesives to reusing existing materials during a reuild to creating a water efficient landscape.

So, what does this all mean to Senya and other students interested in careers in the building industry?

It means that, going forward, a thorough knowledge of LEED requirements is extremely useful — and often mandatory — for careers in Architectural Technology and Civil Engineering. The USGBC offers “LEED Professional Accreditation” to demonstrate a person’s expertise and ability to guide a building project through the LEED certification process. Exams are given in several categories, including the LEED-NC (New construction/major renovation), LEED-EB (Existing Building) and LEED-CI (Commercial Interior).

Check out the USGBC website where you’ll find plenty of background on green building initiatives as well as LEEDS-related laws and incentives that are being implemented in communities throughout the country to promote environmentally responsible building projects — both commercial and residential. The website also goes into more detail regarding LEEDS certification requirements and can direct you to exam-prep courses and other instruction to help prepare for LEEDS accreditation testing.

ATETV Episode 43: Collaboration, Conservation and the Cutting Edge

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

This week, we learn how companies look to graduates to meet workforce demands, learn about the latest trends in energy conservation and talk with a student who is returning to school to study laser technology.

In our first segment, we visit Springfield Technical Community College, where Computer Technology students are taking classes side-by-side with professionals from area computer companies.

Says Scott Edwards of Juniper Networks, “The collaboration between Juniper and local colleges [enables students to] access the same information [being accessed by professionals] which helps them prepare for the same types of jobs.”

And as Springfield’s Gordon Snyder notes, “What we’re doing is exposing companies to the community college…We have made good connections with these companies and they realize what great places community colleges are. [In fact, community colleges] are now probably the first place they come when want to hire somebody new.”

While industry is becoming more aware of the programs offered at Springfield Technical College, students, teachers and consumers alike are becoming more aware of the high costs of energy – and ways to conserve – as we learn in our second segment.

As Mike Traen of Certified Energy Raters explains, green building verifications and performance testing for Energy Star compliance and rating is a great movement.

“It’s a way to be environmentally responsible,” says Mike. “It amounts to not using more than you have to, not disposing of more than you have to. It’s a good thing for a home owner because you’re going to save money in the process.” Mike predicts that the field of Energy Efficiency and Compliance will expand and that the need for qualified energy technicians, too, will increase.

And, it’s a similar message in our third segment, which takes us to Central Carolina Community College’s Laser and Photonics Program, where student and former truck driver Andy Dawson is making a change, and embarking on an exciting, fast-paced career.

“I’m loving every minute of the program so far,” says Andy. “I mean any time I get something in my hands and I’m having to do the work on it and being able to break that laser down [and figure out what’s wrong with it and how to best fix it] to get it working correctly [I get excited]” he adds. “For just two years’ investment, you can’t go wrong in a community college program, “ he notes.