What Is a Controls Engineer (+ How to Become One)
A controls engineer is a professional who designs, develops, and maintains control systems for various types of machines and equipment. These systems ensure that machines operate safely and efficiently, and they are critical in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, energy, aerospace, and more.
This article will explore what a controls engineer does, what skills are necessary to become one, and the steps involved in pursuing this career.
What Does a Controls Engineer Do?
The primary responsibility of a controls engineer is to design, develop, and maintain control systems for various types of machines and equipment. These systems can range from simple switches and relays to complex programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCS), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. These systems help to regulate processes and keep machines running safely and efficiently.
Control engineers work with various equipment, such as robots, industrial machinery, and automation systems. They also collaborate with other professionals, such as electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and software developers, to ensure that control systems are integrated seamlessly into larger systems.
In addition to designing and developing control systems, controls engineers also play a critical role in maintaining them. They monitor and troubleshoot systems to identify and resolve issues quickly, ensuring equipment runs smoothly and efficiently. They also conduct regular inspections and make modifications as necessary to improve performance and ensure safety.
Skills Needed to Become a Controls Engineer
Becoming a controls engineer requires a combination of technical and soft skills. These skills are essential to designing, developing, and maintaining control systems effectively. Here are s effectively one of the critical skills needed to become a successful controls engineer:
Control engineers must have a strong foundation in electrical and electronic engineering. They must be knowledgeable about circuit design, digital and analogue electronics, control systems, and programming languages such as C++, Python, and ladder logic.
They should also be familiar with various control systems, including PLCs, DCS, and SCADA systems, and understand how they work and integrate them into larger systems.
As a controls engineer, you will face complex problems requiring creative solutions. You must analyse data, identify patterns, and troubleshoot issues effectively.
Attention to Detail
Control engineers must have excellent attention to detail to ensure control systems are designed and implemented accurately. Even a tiny mistake in programming or wiring can lead to significant issues.
Control engineers must communicate effectively with other professionals, including electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and software developers. They must be able to explain technical concepts clearly and concisely to people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
Control engineers often work in teams, collaborating with other professionals to design and implement control systems. They must work effectively with others and be willing to take on different roles and responsibilities to ensure project success.
How to Become a Controls Engineer
Becoming a controls engineer requires education, experience, and ongoing learning. Here are the steps involved in pursuing a career in controls engineering:
The first step in becoming a controls engineer is to obtain a bachelor's degree in electrical or electronic engineering. These programs typically take four years to complete and provide a strong foundation in circuit design, digital and analogue electronics, control systems, and programming.
You should also take math, physics, and computer science courses to develop a well-rounded skill set during your studies.
After completing your degree, the next step is gaining practical control engineering experience. This can be done through internships, co-op programs, or entry-level positions in the industry.
During this time, you will work on designing, developing, and maintaining control systems under the guidance of experienced professionals. You will also be exposed to different types of equipment and procedures, which will help you develop a deeper understanding of control engineering.
Obtain Professional Certification
Obtaining a professional certification in controls engineering can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in the field. The International Society of Automation (ISA) offers a Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST) program, which provides certification at three levels based on experience and knowledge.
Other organisations, such as the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), also offer certification programs for control engineers.
Control engineering is constantly evolving, with new technologies and techniques always emerging. As such, staying up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in the industry is essential.
This can be done through attending conferences, workshops, and seminars, as well as by reading industry publications and participating in online forums and discussion groups.
Career Pathways for Controls Engineers
Controls engineering is a field with many different career pathways. Some control engineers may specialise in a particular area, such as robotics or automation systems, while others may take on more general roles in systems integration or project management.
Here are some of the career pathways that control engineers may pursue:
As a controls engineer, you will design, develop, and maintain control systems for various equipment and machinery. You will work with other professionals, such as electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and software developers, to ensure that control systems are integrated seamlessly into larger systems.
As an automation engineer, you will focus on designing and developing automation systems that can perform tasks automatically without human intervention. You will work with different equipment and sensors to build systems that can operate efficiently and effectively.
As a robotics engineer, you will design and develop robotic systems that can perform various tasks, from manufacturing to healthcare. You will work with different sensors, actuators, and control systems to create robots that can move, manipulate objects, and perform other tasks.
As a project manager, you will oversee the development and implementation of control systems for large-scale projects. You will work with different teams to ensure that systems are integrated seamlessly and projects are completed on time and within budget.
Control engineering is a required field vital in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of various equipment and machinery.
Becoming a controls engineer requires technical and soft skills, ongoing learning, and practical experience.
Suppose you are interested in pursuing a career in controls engineering. In that case, it is essential to obtain a bachelor's degree in electrical or electronic engineering, gain practical experience in the industry, and obtain professional certification.
With the proper education, experience, and skills, you can build a successful career in this exciting and dynamic field.
What is the job outlook for controls engineers?
The job outlook for controls engineers is strong, with a projected growth rate of 7% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What industries employ control engineers?
Control engineers can work in various industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, energy, and robotics.
What software do controls engineers use?
Control engineers may use various software tools, including computer-aided design (CAD) software, programmable logic controller (PLC) programming software, and simulation software.
What skills are essential for control engineers?
Essential skills for control engineers include knowledge of electrical and electronic systems, programming languages such as C++ and MATLAB, and problem-solving and analytical skills.
What is the difference between control engineering and electrical engineering?
While controls engineering and electrical engineering involve working with electrical and electronic systems, controls engineering specifically focuses on designing, developing, and maintaining control systems.
How long does it take to become a controls engineer?
Becoming a controls engineer typically requires a bachelor's degree in electrical or electronic engineering, which usually takes four years to complete.
What is the average salary for a controls engineer?
According to PayScale, the average salary for a controls engineer in the United States is around $77,000 annually. However, this can vary depending on experience, location, and industry.
Can controls engineers work remotely?
Remote work opportunities for control engineers may be available, particularly in industries where automation and remote equipment monitoring are becoming more prevalent. However, many control engineering jobs may require on-site installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of control systems.