Instrumentation Technicians


Exploring this Job

As a way to test your abilities and learn more about calibration work try building small electronic equipment. Kits for building radios and other small appliances are available in some electronics shops. This will give you a basic understanding of electronic components and applications.

Some communities and schools also have clubs for people interested in electronics. They may offer classes that teach basic skills in construction, repair, and adjustment of electrical and electronic products. Model building, particularly in hard plastic and steel, will give you a good understanding of how to adapt and fit parts together. It may also help develop your hand skills if you want to work with precision instruments.

Visits to industrial laboratories, instrument shops, research laboratories, power installations, and manufacturing companies that rely on automated processes can expose you to the activities of instrumentation technicians. During such visits, you might be able to speak with technicians about their work or with managers about possible openings in their company. Also, you might look into getting a summer or part-time job as a helper on an industrial maintenance crew.

Joining a science club, such as the Technology Student Association (TSA), which provides students a chance to explore career opportunities in technology, engineering, science, and mathematics, enter academic competitions, and participate in summer exploration programs. TSA administers a competition that allows high school students to use their technology skills. The Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science ( is an engineering problem competition.

The Job

Instrumentation technicians work with complex instruments that detect, measure, and record changes in industrial environments. As part of their duties, these technicians perform tests, develop new instruments, and install, repair, inspect, and maintain the instruments. Examples of such instruments include altimeters, pressure gauges, speedometers, and radiation detection devices.

Some instrumentation technicians operate the laboratory equipment that produces or records the effects of certain conditions on the test instruments, such as vibration, stress, temperature, humidity, pressure, altitude, and acceleration. Other technicians sketch, build, and modify electronic and mechanical fixtures, instruments, and related apparatuses.

As part of their duties, technicians might verify the dimensions and functions of devices assembled by other technicians and craftsworkers, plan test programs, and direct technical personnel in carrying out these tests. Instrumentation technicians also perform mathematical calculations on instrument readings and test results so they can be used in graphs and written reports.

Instrumentation technicians work with three major categories of instruments: 1) pneumatic and electropneumatic equipment, which includes temperature and flow transmitters and receivers and devices that start or are started by such things as pressure springs, diaphragms, and bellows; 2) hydraulic instrumentation, which includes hydraulic valves, hydraulic valve operators, and electrohydraulic equipment; and 3) electrical and electronic equipment, which includes electrical sensing elements and transducers, electronic recorders, and electronic telemetering systems.

In some industries, a technician might work on equipment from each category, while in other industries, a technician might be responsible for only one specific type of task. The different levels of responsibility depend also on the instrumentation technician's level of training and experience.

Instrumentation technicians may hold a variety of different positions. Mechanical instrumentation technicians, for example, handle routine mechanical functions. They check out equipment before operation, calibrate it during operation, rebuild it using standard replacement parts, mount interconnecting equipment from blueprints, and perform routine repairs using common hand tools. They must be able to read both instrumentation and electronic schematic diagrams. Instrumentation repair technicians determine the causes of malfunctions and make repairs. Such repairs usually involve individual pieces of equipment, as distinguished from entire systems. This job requires experience, primarily laboratory-oriented, beyond that of mechanical instrumentation technicians.

Troubleshooting instrumentation technicians make adjustments to instruments and control systems, calibrate equipment, set up tests, diagnose malfunctions, and revise existing systems. Their work is performed either on-site or at a workbench. Advanced training in mathematics, physics, and blueprint reading is required for this level of work. Technicians who are involved in the design of instruments are called instrumentation design technicians. They work under the supervision of a design engineer. Using information prepared by engineers, they build models and prototypes and prepare sketches, working drawings, and diagrams, or use computer-aided design programs to do so. These technicians also test out new system designs, order parts, and make mock-ups of new systems.

Technicians in certain industries have more specialized duties and responsibilities. Biomedical equipment technicians work with instruments used during medical procedures. They receive special training in the biomedical area in which their instruments are used.

Calibration technicians, also known as standards laboratory technicians, work in the electronics industry and in aerospace and aircraft manufacturing. As part of their inspection of systems and instruments, they measure parts for conformity to specifications, and they help develop calibration standards, devise formulas to solve problems in measurement and calibration, and write procedures and practical guides for other calibration technicians.

Electromechanical technicians work with automated mechanical equipment controlled by electronic sensing devices. They assist mechanical engineers in the design and development of such equipment, analyze test results, and write reports. The technician follows blueprints, operates metalworking machines, builds instrument housings, installs electrical equipment, and calibrates instruments and machinery. Technicians who specialize in the assembly of prototype instruments are known as development technicians. Fabrication technicians specialize in the assembly of production instruments.

Nuclear instrumentation technicians work with instruments at a nuclear power plant. These instruments control the various systems within the nuclear reactor, detect radiation, and sound alarms in case of equipment failure. Instrument sales technicians work for equipment manufacturing companies. They analyze customer needs, outline specifications for equipment cost and function, and sometimes do emergency troubleshooting.