Automation support manager,
Van Meter Electric
By Joe Nowlan
Devin Carney is the automation support manager at Van Meter Electric’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa, location. That’s somewhat fitting since he’s been in and around automation for most of his life.
Both his parents were teachers at nearby Hawkeye Community College and his father taught automation-related courses.
“He had a focus on automation. So he was doing the training on anything from hydraulics, pneumatics, electrical and PLC,” Carney said. “So I kind of knew I wanted to go that route.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Iowa State University, he explained, and intended to “go to work for either a manufacturer, integrator or an OEM doing the automation side of things. But on a whim, I took an interview with Van Meter that was set up by my local college.”
He liked being able to take his engineering and automation expertise and apply it to Van Meter’s tech support group.
Carney and his seven member automation support team have to be knowledgeable on an array of topics that Van Meter customers could be calling about: a pump that won’t start or difficulty in programming a PLC, among others.
“Let’s take a conveyor line, for example. They have multiple sensors on it and maybe they have a drive attached to the conveyor belt and they have some inputs and outputs telling it how it should work. And then one day nothing is working,” Carney explained. “What is it and how can we get them a solution to get them back up and running? Because at a lot of these facilities you are talking thousands of dollars a minute of downtime.”
Carney and his group also need to have thorough product knowledge both individually and collectively.
“We have certain expertise within our group. Some people will know more about particular products than others. But we all have a baseline knowledge about the more popular products we sell.… It covers a large subsection,” Carney explained. “Rockwell Automation is what we focus on and that is a large component of our business.”
Like many of this year’s “30 Under 35” honorees, Carney embraces what may seem at times to be a constant learning process as new, improved products come along.
“A lot of times we are learning the same way that our customers are—either by getting [a product] on our desk and just testing it out and putting it through its paces,” he said. “I think most of the group would agree with me when I say that a lot of that comes from the hands-on component—and trying to figure out how to get something back to working order.”
He was born and grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Growing up in a family of educators certainly shaped him and his sister.
“That is where I got the sensibility that training is the lifeblood of any good group or good company that is improving and changing,” Carney said. “Growing up with two teachers that understood the importance of that has really shaped how I work today.”
Carney is married. He and his wife Jessica have a dog (Lucky).
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Always depend on your coworkers and respect the expertise that they might have. And they will respect the expertise and any experiences that you bring to the table. Always ask questions. There is never a day goes by that I’m not asking one of the other guys in the group to help me with something or to answer something for me. And they know that they can do the same with me. Also – network. Get to know people on a personal level. Hang out with them. Ask them how they’re doing and say hello. Just be as social as possible with your coworkers because that is the best way to develop a rapport.
Q. If someone approached you during your freshman year in college and said you would be working in the electrical industry, what would your reaction have been?
A. I wouldn’t have been surprised (laughing). Especially given my degree. [But] if somebody had come to me and said I’d be working in electrical distribution – a sales and service organization – that probably would have shocked me a little because I was heading down the path of wanting to be with a manufacturer and working on machines. But to be kind of in the sales end of it and being involved with customers and helping them on the tough problems – I probably would’ve been shocked my freshman year [to have heard that]. But now I cannot imagine being anywhere else.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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