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.
At its most basic level, automation systems consist of three elements: measurement, control and actuators.
- Measurement – instruments known as sensors take the measurements, then send the readings to the control. Think, inputs to the system.
- 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).
- 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.
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.