Push the envelope of what you know

Thomas Jacobsen encourages those in automation to stay curious, think innovatively and focus on customer needs. Read about his experiences working for NNE’s automation group.

How did you become an automation engineer?

After working in the end-user side of pharma engineering within quality assurance systems, I changed gears and took on a consulting role in July 2012 as an automation engineer. Currently, I am focused on automation infrastructure and Rockwell. Within my first six months, I completed all five system integrator training certificates offered by Rockwell. Then a year after I joined NNE, I attended the Rockwell Technical Education (RSTECHED) seminar in San Diego, CA. Additionally, I just spent a month in Denmark, training at headquarters with my automation colleagues. In my first year, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could and as fast as I could. I went out on my own to learn VMware and virtualisation systems. The idea of this focus is to condense many computers into one, thus compressing systems to gain greater resource utilisation. 

Why is automation so important in pharma engineering?

There is a drive in automation to reduce your footprint and save on space and cost by dramatically reducing your total computer resources. Server rooms can shrink 75%, saving heating and electrical costs and simplifying management.

With my current work with VMware, we build a "sandbox environment" where the customer can test out a system before they run it at a plant. This helps to prevent potentially applying a system that is not appropriate for them. I was just assigned a new project in which I will build a new VMWare production system for the customer from the top down. I will do procurement and configuration of servers, VMWare and Rockwell installation and bring the system from zero to full control of their plants. Automation is a broad and challenging field; you are not pigeonholed into one focus area.

No matter what solutions you provide, you yourself should never stop learning. In automation – and in pharma engineering – we work in an environment where we can dream and be creative with our work, so we must take advantage of that. Never stop being innovative.

Thomas Jacobsen

What is your advice for future engineers?

When I am on site, I try to always step back and think about what I would want, not what I am trying to sell to the customer. If you understand the software and know where the industry trends are headed, you know how you can safely advise the customer. They may not need the flashiest system, but, rather a more concise one. You don’t want to be the used car salesman that tries to sell a navigation screen when the customer already has a smartphone.

Some companies over-engineer solutions, and I witnessed this when I was an end-user. That being said, I always offer the customer at least a taste of the different technologies that are available. It is exciting and interesting, but it is not always what they need right now.

No matter what solutions you provide, you yourself should never stop learning. In automation – and in pharma engineering – we work in an environment where we can dream and be creative with our work, so we must take advantage of that. Never stop being innovative.

Bio:

  • Thomas Jacobsen graduated from North Carolina State University with a B.Sc in biological process engineering.
  • He began his M.Sc in chemical engineering while working for Novartis in North Carolina, completing it in 2014 while working for NNE.
  • In 2012, he was referred by a friend to apply at NNE as he had an interest in automation and process control.
  • Thomas Jacobsen was hired by NNE in July 2012, where he joined the East Coast automation team.
  • He is now the automation and infrastructure virtualisation SME lead for NA and leads the CoE (Centre of Excellence) for automation infrastructure. He also supports Rockwell software.
  • He spends approximately 60% of his time on site with the customer, and 40% in the office.