By: Donagh Fitzgerald B.Prod Eng and Claire Wilson BSc. Last Updated: July 2024

Two automation engineers discussing a project

Image: Festo

An Automation Engineer uses technology to improve, streamline and automate manufacturing, electricity generation, warehouse distribution, mining and many other processes to reduce the need for human intervention and maximise efficiency. They are responsible for planning, implementing, and monitoring such technology.

Let’s take a closer look at the details of automation and the role of an Automation Engineer.

What is Industrial Automation Exactly?

At its most basic level, automation systems consist of three elements: measurement, control and actuators.

  1. Measurement – instruments known as sensors take the measurements, then send the readings to the control. Think, inputs to the system.
  2. Control – this acts as the brain of the process, deciding which actions to take and then sending those instructions to the actuators. For industrial or process automation, you need a complex device like a programmable logic controller (PLC).
  3. Actuators. There are lots of different types such as – pumps, heaters, flow valves, pistons, rotors, robotic arms and so on – and each performs a different action. Think, outputs from the system.

So measurement (for example, a thermometer measures the temperature in a liquid) sends a reading to the control, Control (determines the temperature is too high or too low), and tells the actuators (heater) to change their actions (heat/cool the liquid). In other words, the sensor’s value is an input to the PLC.

The PLC determines what to do based on this input and sends outputs to the actuators to change their action. This whole process repeats in a closed loop and can be described as a control loop.

What Does an Automation Engineer Do?

In an industrial setting, an Automation Engineer sets up the automation of manufacturing processes. These processes govern the production and delivery of products. The aim is to streamline the manufacturing process, radically increase productivity and make it as efficient as possible while still maintaining product quality and adhering to internal protocols and external regulations.

Automation Engineers also work in a vast range of other sectors such as electricity generation, car manufacturing,  food processing, water treatment, pharmaceutical manufacturing, beer making, mining, etc.

The automation engineer must understand the process and its needs to select the appropriate instruments to monitor and control all the necessary variables. This work includes:

  • working with process control engineers to develop an automation system to control the process.
  • choosing and programming a controller and establishing communication between the sensors (inputs), actuators (outputs), and controller.
  • simulating, installing, testing, and managing electrical or mechanical automation.
  • monitoring the automation processes on an ongoing basis.

Check out this video on what Automation Engineers do.

The specific skills and knowledge needed will vary widely between roles depending on the manufacturing processes involved and the product being produced. General tasks can include:

  • Identification of new opportunities for automation within the manufacturing process
  • Management of a project team
  • Designing new automation equipment or processes
  • Simulating and testing these processes or equipment to ensure they function as desired
  • Writing reports for senior colleagues outlining new concepts, testing outcomes, and ongoing efficiency
  • Programming new automated components to the manufacturing process
  • Developing and maintaining clear and accurate documentation of automation equipment or processes
  • Staff training where necessary – typically after implementing new processes or equipment, or making changes to existing ones
  • Troubleshooting automated processes or equipment when errors occur

How Do You Become an Automation Engineer?

A Bachelors Degree in automation, process control, electrical, electronic engineering or mechanical engineering is the typical entry route into Automation Engineering roles. These programs would typically cover subjects such as:

  • process control systems analysis and design
  • advanced programming logic controllers
  • mechatronics
  • systems integration
  • digital control systems
  • analogue electronics
  • electromechanics
  • robotics
  • fluid dynamics
  • statistics
  • computer-aided design (CAD)
  • electrical principles engineering
  • pneumatic / electro-pneumatic and hydraulic systems
  • advanced automation technology
  • industrial data communication
  • energy operations & utilities management
  • image processing
  • power electronics & drives
  • supervisory control and data acquisition
  • deep learning for computer vision
  • AV sensor systems
  • industrial networks

There are more specialized qualifications available for individuals within the field or those who are looking to supplement a less relevant base qualification. The bulk of relevant automation engineering training is then gained through hands-on career experience.

Licensing and Certification for Automation Engineers

A licensing or certification can enhance your prospects for a career in automation engineering but they are not an absolute requirement.

A popular certification for automation engineers is Certified Automation Professional which is issued by the International Society of Automation (ISA). The CAP targets a wider range of automation topics to demonstrate competence in the entire field and is a worldwide program whose importance will vary depending on certain companies or industries.

Another certification in this field is the Control System Engineer License, issued by the National Society of Professional Engineers (PE). This qualification focus on process control. Here is a link to a (CSA) (PE) certification preparation course. The PE is specific to the United States, although many countries around the world offer similar engineering licensure.

Computer System Validation Course

If you’re an Automation Engineer who works or wants to extend your role into Pharma/MedTech, check out our Computer System Validation program and go rapidly from beginner to a CSV expert.

Check out our 10-Week Computer Systems Validation Course.

This program will teach you the process used to test, validate and formally document that a regulated GxP computerized system application does exactly what it is designed to do. Computer System Validation (CSV) is applied to all GxP computer-based systems used at any point in the manufacturing process in regulated manufacturing. Examples might include:

  • Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)
  • Laboratory Instrument Systems (LIS)
  • Clinical Trial Monitoring Systems
  • PLC for Controlled Packaging Equipment
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)
  • Distributed Control System (DCS)
  • Chromatography Data System (CDS)
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems
  • Manufacturing Execution System (MES)
  • Batch Record System
  • Building Management Systems (BMS)
  • Spreadsheets

What Industries do Automation Engineers Work In?

Automation engineering allows you to work in lots of different fields such as factory automation, process automation and warehouse automation. Here are some examples of specific industries or sectors where you could work in

  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Medical device manufacturing
  • Chemical and petrochemical manufacturing
  • eCommerce fulfilment centres (think Amazon’s warehouse which uses huge amounts of automation)
  • Baggage handling systems at an airport
  • Food processing and beverage/drinks manufacturing
  • Mining and metal extraction
  • Steel rolling mills
  • Water and wastewater treatment
  • Biochemical manufacturing
  • Building material manufacturing
  • Large infrastructure (road and rail)
  • Textile manufacturing
  • Software engineering

Automations engineers generally work in offices. However, they may spend significant amounts of time on site where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems.

They would usually work normal office hours, Monday to Friday, but in the case of a breakdown or emergency, they may have to work outside those hours. Automation Engineers often work with those who design other systems and with the technicians or developers who put their designs into practice.

Some engineers travel extensively to various manufacturing plants or worksites, both domestically and internationally.

What Skills Do I Need?

The ideal skill set for someone moving into Automation Engineering roles includes:

  • Excellent computer skills – particularly in programming and software development. Many aspects of the role of an Automation Engineer require the use of a computer
  • Equipment troubleshooting skills – as you will often need to debug or troubleshoot an existing system
  • Communication skills – will need to be able to explain novel and complex ideas to stakeholders of all levels and within multidisciplinary teams. Written communication skills will also be needed for record keeping and documentation, a key part of these regulated industries
  • Problem-solving and creative thinking – will be required to troubleshoot problems as they arise and find effective solutions
  • Organisational skills – to map out projects, prioritize workload and keep accurate documentation
  • Flexibility & Adaptability – has to be able to keep up with latest techniques and technologies as they develop

Automation Engineers (Software)

While automation has been an important part of the manufacturing industry for decades, it’s relatively new to other sectors such as software development. Outside of manufacturing or power generation, automation is typically focused on identifying opportunities for automation within software processes and quality assurance testing. The goal is to eliminate defects, errors and problems with product or software development or with business or customer service processes.

Automation Engineer Salaries and Job Growth

Your salary will vary depending on:

  • where you work
  • the size of the company or organisation you work for
  • the market demand for the job.

Check out our salary guide for Automation Engineer salary information local to you.

Automation Engineer Resume Tips

As with all resumes, it’s extremely important that you tailor your Automation Engineer resume to reflect the language used within the job advert. Where you have relevant experience or skills, use the words and phrases that the employer has used to describe them. Do not assume that someone will read similar wording and know what you mean.

Automation Engineer roles will typically be looking for the skills previously outlined:

  • Excellent computer skills
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving and creative thinking
  • Organisational skills
  • Flexibility & Adaptability

For more help with your resume, check out these templates and this list of 30 tips to improve your resume.

Your salary will vary depending on:

  • where you work
  • the size of the company or organisation you work for
  • the market demand for the job.

Check out our salary guide for Automation Engineer salary information local to you.

Automation Engineer Job Vacancies

For more information on currently available Automation Engineering roles within the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing industries, head to our jobs boards and select Engineering or Engineering Projects in the “Jobs by Category” menu. We currently have an Irish Pharmaceutical Jobs board and a UK Pharmaceutical Jobs board.

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About the Author

Our Team

Donagh Fitzgerald

Head of Marketing & Product Development
Mechanical/Production Engineer

Donagh looks after the marketing and product development including the training and pedagogical elements of our programs and makes sure that all GetReskilled’s users can have a great online learning experience. Donagh has lived and worked in many countries including Ireland, America, the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Donagh has also served as the Program Manager for the Farmleigh Fellowship based out of Singapore.

Donagh holds Degrees in Production Engineering and Mechanical Engineering from South East Technological University, Ireland.

Image with Claire Wilison from GetReskilled Team

Claire Wilson

Content Marketing and Career Coaching

Claire runs GetReskilled’s Advanced Career Coaching Programme – our specially devised job hunting course that helps our trainees take that final step into employment by leading them through the job hunting process. She is extremely enthusiastic about helping people reach their final goal of employment in their new career path.

Claire has a BSc (Hons) in Medical Biology from Edinburgh University and spent 7 years working in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.