Instrumentation technicians do precision repair work on complex instuments like, for example, medical equipment, scientific machines, and photographic apparatus. They install, repair, and troubleshoot instruments that measure pressure, temperature, and heat; control flow, density, and speed of electricity, gases, or liquids; and guide automated devices, machines, and processes.
Technicians work in different industries like scientific research laboratories, environmental protection agencies, and communcation systems organizations. For example, those working in the chemical industry install instruments that measure or regulate chemical processes. An instrument, for example, may measure acidity, pressure, and temperature in a chemical compound. Chemical processes are necessary for the creation of numerous products from commercial paint to artificial fertilizers. Meanwhile, those working in the medical industry may fix a heart-lung machine or repair a kidney dialysis machine.
Technicians may be employed by precision instrument manufacturers, universities, private research laboratories, or government agencies. They need to be knowledgable about scientific subjects like mathematics, physics, and chemistry and skillful about electrical, mechanical, and engineering technology. If they work under the supervision of scientists or engineers, they must be able to understand the language used by these professionals.
Sometimes the work may involve troubleshooting the problem with an instrument, and to do this a technician must use special diagnostic tools, sometimes it may involve traveling from one plant to another to service machines, sometimes it may involve assisting in writing technical manuals for a manufacturer, and sometimes it might involve training staff members in a school, factory, or company on how to use some complex equipment.
Training and Education Requirements
Usually training is from recognized technical schools and colleges that have instrumentation technology programs. While most such programs will take two years, some can go for as long as four years, with the longer programs offering more specialized training. In addition, students may choose to gain expertise in related technologies as well, taking courses in electronic, electrical, or mechanical engineering. Employers, too, provide assistance with on-the-job training for their specific equipment and industry.
Job placement can be facilitated by technical or college staff, direct applications to companies known to hire precision instrument and equipment technicians, and through other job hunting resources. Once on the job, training continues as skill and experience grows. Initially, the work may simply be making instrument adjustments. Later, it can grow to troubleshooting problems. From here, some advance to be supervisors while others sell, teach, or write technical manuals. Finally, someone who is ambitious may even go back to school to become an engineer.
A career in this field depends on the individuals interests, the opportunities available, and the rate of technological progress. One technician may decide to work on watches and clocks for a small manufacturer, another technician may find a job in the mettalurgical industry, another technician may find a job in the biomedical field, and another technician may decide to work under a nuclear scientist to test and refine sensitive instruments in a nuclear reactor. Technicians work in a variety of places: in the backroom of shops, in laboratories, and on production lines. On average, the work week may be thirty, thirty-five, or forty hours, but on some jobs overtime shifts may be the norm when the technician is the only staff members in charge of certain complex equipment. As technology progresses, the need for experts in installing, repairing, and troubleshooting sensitive and complex equipment will only increase.
People interested in mathematics and science will find many career opportunities in this field, often working with a team of scientists and engineers on technologically sophisticated projects.
Salary and Wages
Earnings will vary widely, depending on education, initiative, aptitude, and experience, but the median hourly pay ranges from $14 an hour to $22 an hour. A technician working in a medical and surgical hospital averages around $45,000 and one who works for a firm providing consumer goods averages around $30,000. Generally the benefits consist of pension plans, health insurance, and paid vacations.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Most certification is earned after two years of college or technical education although some may require up to four years. The prerequisite is high school graduation. The type of certification a student earns depends on the chosen speciality. If the student, for example, was interested in learning about medical instruments, he could get one of three certifications from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation ( AAMI). He or she could be certified as a Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist ( CLEB), a Certified Radiology Equipment Specialist (CRES) or a Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET).
Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation
1110 North Glebe Rd., Ste. 220
Arlington, VA 22201-4795
Instrument Society of America
67 Alexander Dr., Box 12277
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians
P.O. Box 51
2026 Eagle Rd.
Normal, IL 61761