Technicians at the Synchrotron

Who are the engineers and technicians who keep Diamond operating?
23 January 2012

Interview with 

Paul Amos, Diamond Light Source


The Diamond Synchrotron in Didcot, Oxfordshire


Meera – A the Diamond synchrotron, electrons are accelerated at speeds close to the speed of light, generating beams of light up to a hundred billion times brighter that the sun. So you can imagine that when working with such small particles and such high levels of radiation, the materials, machines and equipment, as well as conditions such as temperature and humidity, must be tightly controlled. To ensure this happens every minute of every day, requires the expertise of many engineers and technicians based at Diamond, all with quite specific roles...

Paul Amos - I’m Paul Amos, I’m a Senior PLC Technician here at Diamond Light Source. I work in the Machine Protection Group which is a PLC-based group. PLC stands for Programmable Logic Control and it’s our job to make sure that the machine is safe to run, taking in vacuum levels, monitoring water flow and temperatures of vital equipment around the machine.

Meera- You’ve mentioned the factors that you have to monitor, how do they affect how well the machine functions and how healthy it is?

Paul – We just take the input in from a flow switch or from a temperature sensor and it’s just a signal to say that it’s healthy or it’s not healthy. If the water flow was to dip then that would compromise the temperature of a certain bit of equipment which could then get even hotter and hotter, so we have to protect the machine from damaging itself, therefore we would, first of all, raise the alarm to say that the water had gone and then if the water continued to dip lower, then we would trip the machine to protect itself.

Meera – and what’s the ideal working temperature then, in the machine, in the synchrotron?

Paul – We try to keep the temperatures below 50 degrees. Once you start to go over 50 degrees then the electronics start to destroy themselves with heat.

Meera – And we’re in your lab here, at the moment, which is in Diamond House, so just over the road through the window we can see the synchrotron. Is this where you monitor all these factors from?

Paul – No this is just a development lab, so in here we work on the Ladder Logic, which is the software that the PLC runs on. The monitoring is actually done in the Control Room via the Epics Software. So they log everything, all the temperatures, all the water flows, and we provide an interlock word which is displayed through the Epics so they can then see what has tripped the machine off or tripped a valve closed.

Meera – And so what valves are you controlling and how do you set about controlling them?

Paul – The valves that separate different vacuum spaces. So the beam travels round  the ring and down to the beamline in a really high vacuum level, and we just have to make sure that the valves are safe to open, so that there’s a good enough vacuum either side of these valves so that they can be opened to let the beam travel round the ring, or down to the beamline.

Meera – And you’ve actually got quite a bit of machinery here, it’s like a, it’s a box really, reasonably big in size with lots of buttons on the front of it and this is, according to what it says, the remote IO valve control crate.

Paul – Yes, that’s correct. The PLC, the Program Logic Controller, is within this box. It’s one of our products we have several other 6 valve controllers, 4 valve controllers, temperature control crates and they are, as we like to put it, plug and play, so they are standard for Diamond so that if one was to go wrong, which very rarely happens, we can easily take that PLC crate out, program up a new one, and replace it. So we can be back up and running very, very quickly.

Meera – So you have to have quite a lot of technical knowledge, but also I guess be quick on your feet here?

Paul – Yes, having a quick response is pretty vital because the machine being off costs quite a bit of money per hour so getting the machine back up and running is our number one key.

Meera – And do you enjoy your role?

Paul – I do, the beamlines are always changing, new beamlines coming on line so they have new requirements. Yeah we have new equipment coming in so therefore we have to interface with new equipment and it’s really good, I really do enjoy it.

Meera – And how did you set about getting into this role? Because your path here is quite interesting in that you did an apprenticeship here at Diamond, training you up in a variety of things and you specialised in this, how did you get to this position?

Paul – Well, my apprenticeship was actually with the STFC, or CCLRC as it was back then, across the road at Rutherford and I got there after doing my A-levels and spent 4 years there doing an apprenticeship in electrical engineering.

Meera – Interestingly, you also train the current apprentices.

Paul – Yes, Diamond have decided to help with the Rutherford scheme. In 2008 we started paying for 2 apprentices in each intake. We’re into our 4th year now and I’m charged with finding positions within Diamond in which the apprentices can come and learn new skills and fulfil their training needs.

Meera – Paul Amos, Senior PLC Technician at Diamond.


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