An Automation Engineer sets up the automation of a manufacturing or technological process. They work with Process Control Engineers to develop an automation system to control the process. They are responsible for choosing, designing, and programming a controller and establishing communication between the sensors (inputs), actuators (outputs), and controller.
Automation engineers develop complex automation solutions. In the built environment they work as Building Automation Engineers on solutions that are often designed to control a building’s HVAC systems. However, this is just one facet of the role and they also deal with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Programmable Logistics Controllers (PLC), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Distributed Control System (DCS) automation and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) in the manufacturing environment.
Automation engineers set up the automation of a process. They generally work as part of a multi-disciplinary or controls-specific engineering team to develop an automation system to control the process.
Their job is highly specialised. So much so that they will usually focus their expertise entirely on one industry or even one manufacturer within that industry.
Although each employer will have different requirements, automation engineers should expect to work across mechanical and electrical design specialisms. They will work on all three areas of automation – measurement, control and actuators. The measurement element involves sensors which take measurements and send information to the control, which processes the information and communicates it to the actuator, letting it know what action to perform. They will also install, test, manage and monitor the automation process going forwards.
Automation engineers generally hold a bachelor’s degree in automation, process control or electrical engineering with subjects covering process control, mechatronics, digital control systems, control electronics, electromechanics, robotics, fluid dynamics, statistics. computer-aided design (CAD). As most automated systems involve programmable elements, most automation engineers will have a degree of programming expertise. Skills in C++ are particularly useful and will be attractive to employers.
Skills and attributes
Automation engineers will be expected to be fluent in engineering design software such as Autodesk Revit, AutoCAD Electrical, or ePlan. Soft skills such as good communication skills for team working and client management will be important.
Automation systems design is an emerging field and one that is expected to grow significantly as demand grows, creating excellent career opportunities. With the advent of software driven systems in the built environment and smart factories in manufacturing, the demand for automation engineers is likely to increase rapidly in the next few years. Many factories are moving, or have already moved, from semi-automated to fully automated production with extensive use of robotics, increasing the need for engineers with robotics and programming skills. Beyond the manufacturing arena, automation is becoming increasingly important in business, healthcare and even finance. One big growth area is pharmaceuticals where automated processes are at the heart of modern laboratory design.
Automation reduces risk for businesses by reducing the number of personnel required, something that has become even more topical since Covid-19 increased staff absences and the need for self-isolation, halting production for many less automated businesses. It also lowers cost and has positive impacts on health and safety at work.
As automation and robotics engineers build knowledge and expertise in their sector, there is impressive potential to progress and the shortage of skills in this growing market means there are outstanding prospects for career and income growth.
Automation engineers are involved in both design and implementation. This is a practical engineering role with a creative element that will appeal to problem solvers and team players.
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