From the people I've been talking to, it seems like you would have to leave the union in order to do the programming. Has anyone started out as a journeyman but ended up having to become a technician in order to actually program and install PLCs?
I've heard mixed answers. Some said that PLCs are being said phased out. I've heard that electricians only install and not program. So as of right now I'm just going to take PLC classes at my union and do some personal reading. Does anyone have any further insight on the questions I've asked? Thanks!
High Joe. Basically all descriptions are correct. I have both experienced some of the occupations but more important to this conversation, worked with all types of industries, plants, union, and non.
With union jobs, your PLC programming opportunities will be limited, as the rules vary per chapter, per company/contract. Typical they like to partition that job role, so it is another rung on the ladder (pun intended) to pay increases. But union shops only make up a small part of all the companies needing PLC programming skills. When you consider all the industries (process and manufacturing, infrastructure, transportation, machine OEMs, etc. etc. etc.), union shops only make up a fraction of opportunities.
The good news for you, and others reading this, in the majority of the other non-union employers, the partitioning of PLC program from other maintenance and installation jobs, is the opposite. As you will learn in this article "What's an Industrial Maintenance Technician", most would rather save the money of paying a separate mechanic, electrician, millwright, machinist, PLC technician, and instead have them all rolled into one over tasked employee ... 'the maintenance tech'.
Granted the above is about one definition of a PLC programmer. (To upload/download PLC programs, troubleshoot and make minor changes to existing programs. IE: to maintain equipment with PLCs in them.) The other definition (and in much less demand) is the PLC programmer who is really and industrial automation engineer. (designing systems or at least entire PLC program from scratch for newly designed machines and systems.) for the latter, you need to at least get an electrical engineering degree.
But based on your description of feed back when you asked others about getting into PLCs, I'd guess you are referring to making miner modification, small in-house projects for a manufacturer. When I first started out, manufacturing had separate mechanic, electrician, PLC tech. Then I watch the industry get on the bean counter kick of reducing number of employees required,thus came cross training and the very familiar "Maintenance Tech".
Now days, if it is non-union shop and not a federally regulated industry like food manufacturers or power plants are, a maintenance manager is looking for PLC skills more than any other. Because most applicants can do electrical work, may even be willing to do mechanical, machining, etc. But those applicants skilled in PLCs are far and few in between. So you made a good choice pursing your union PLC training and reading up. A good start.
As for PLCs being phased out, it is true, but nowhere near the extent or time frame others would like one to believe, even PLC OEMs would like you to believe. The key driver that makes phasing them out a slow process (whoops, another pun), is the mentality if it ain't broke, don't fix it. PLCs where built so reliable, they last for 10-30 years with little problems. When some say they are being phased out, they are most likely referring to being replaced (upgraded) to a PAC (Process Automation Controller). Out of some that are on the other side of the argument stating they are not being phased out, they have not been properly trained in PLCs so don't really understand the "PLC vs PAC Difference" (the difference between a PLC and a PAC). The truth is, PLCs are being phased out, to PACs, but ever so slowly. The largest contributing factor to the PAC showing up in plants, is when they buy a new machine. Most new systems and machines will be PACs. But plants don't purchase new machines very often, and they definitely will not replace every machine with a PLC, to a PAC. So it is going to take many years, you will still need PLC training. Plus it is best to master or at least learn PLCs, before moving on to take the much more complex PAC Training(a customized industrial computer). The change rate will vary by industry, and industry segments (like infrastructure, transportation, msc. etc.), and vary by geographical location and company size.
So any way you skin it, you getting PLC training was a good move. May not open many doors for you where you are at, but will open an astronomical amount of doors for you in the rest of the country's, even world's, industries and geographical locations.