What is automation engineering? (Plus engineer duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Organisations in various sectors, from manufacturing to IT, often seek to automate their daily operations. In particular, automation is crucial for creating production tools like machines and software packages, making manufacturing more manageable. If you wish to enter this field, it helps to build a high level of knowledge in engineering or computing and understand the job requirements specific to this role. In this article, we explain what automation engineering is and how to become an automation engineer, including what this role entails and the fields where it's applied.

What is automation engineering?

Automation engineering is a field of engineering that concerns the design and development of automated machines or robots. It aims to create machines that perform specific tasks with little or no human involvement, thereby enhancing accuracy and reducing the time required to complete tasks. These inventions are vital to offering high-quality products and services in virtually every field, from medicine to academia.

Automation engineers either automate software suites or physical machines. These experts collaborate with various professionals to plan, analyse and develop programmed tools. Automated computer or mechanical engineers focus on computerising machines to perform tasks automatically, while automated software engineers create software packages to process data automatically with little human effort.

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How to become an automation engineer

Follow these steps to become an automation engineer:

1. Earn a degree in engineering or IT

Becoming an automation engineer usually requires a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering or a related subject. Since only a few specialist automation engineering degrees are available, most earn Bachelor's Degrees in IT or Mechanical Engineering. Related degrees include computer engineering, chemical engineering and engineering physics.

2. Begin an apprenticeship

Many students start apprenticeships while pursuing their education. An apprenticeship helps you gain valuable on-the-job training and allows you to find a niche that interests you. Apprenticeships in software development, mechanical engineering and control and technical engineering are particularly useful for a career in automation. You may also establish professional connections during your apprenticeship to help you get a job after graduation. Qualifying for an apprenticeship requires at least four GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C).

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3. Choose a speciality

There are a variety of industries that use automation engineers. Automation engineers typically work in either mechanical or software automation. If you want to learn how machines work, consider pursuing mechanical automation. For those who prefer working on internal systems or coding, software automation is perhaps the ideal career choice. Picking a speciality helps you determine the required skills to be a successful engineer. It also helps you find a niche of clients and agencies to work with and build a career.

4. Search for jobs

You may search for jobs locally or online. Although many employers prefer hiring MSc holders, some professionals start as junior engineers while furthering their education. Create a list of jobs you want to apply for and write a targeted CV for each job. This means putting specific phrases in your CV and highlighting the skills and experiences required by a specific job description. To improve your CV, consider pursuing experience in an industry like food processing, biotechnology, systems design or manufacturing. Through on-the-job training, these industries help you build the necessary experience and skill sets to become an automation engineer.

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5. Continue your education

Some organisations prefer candidates with master's degrees in a related field. Various universities offer MSc courses that either cover or focus on automation concepts. In addition to an MSc programme, consider pursuing relevant certifications. Certifications offer you in-depth knowledge and make your CV more appealing to employers.

One of the most recognised certifications is the EAL Level 3 Certificate in Robotics and Automation. Another recognised certification is the ISTQB Test Automation Engineer Certificate. This qualification suits software automation enthusiasts, especially those in software testing. Other widely accepted certifications in this discipline are Levels 1 and 2 Certified Control Systems Technician (CCST) and Certified Automation Professional (CAP).

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What does an automation engineer do?

Here's a list of some of the major responsibilities of an automation engineer:

  • Designing and developing automated machines: The primary duty of an automation engineer is to create machines or software that perform tasks with simple commands. After extensive studies and consultations with stakeholders, the automation engineer designs the physical components of the machine or writes the software codes.

  • Testing and approving product launch: Before launching a tool, engineers put it through a series of tests. The automation engineer spearheads the testing phase and approves the machine or application for safety, value and quality compliance.

  • Upgrading existing automated machines or programs: Gadgets and software packages function at their best for a period before an upgrade becomes necessary. At this stage, the engineer determines which aspects of the machine to improve, estimates the costs and performs the upgrade.

  • Discussing product development goals with stakeholders: In many cases, automation engineers design automated machines under the guidance of stakeholders. These engineers conduct collaborative discussions with their organisation and its clients concerning the goals and expectations for the project.

  • Monitoring the product's performance: After launching an automated software or machine, automation engineers monitor its functionality and performance on the market. This practice helps them receive feedback, detect areas for improvement and apply them to future designs.

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Career prospects as an automation engineer

Here are some of the industries where an automation engineer may find employment:

Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry specialises in products for domestic chores and machines for commercial purposes. Automation ensures that organisations manufacture products faster to meet the high demands of consumers. As the need for more innovative tools increases daily, the demand for automation engineers in manufacturing also increases.

Law enforcement

Automation is crucial to helping law enforcement agencies track and apprehend offenders. Employing automation in certain aspects of this field improves internal communications and response times to emergency calls. For instance, developing machines to scan ID cards for criminal record information makes stop and search more effective.

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Customer service

Many modern organisations credit their success to effective customer service. A major challenge with customer service is providing around-the-clock assistance for customers. Therefore, introducing self-help services such as chatbots has become invaluable. With these features, customers may get help anytime, regardless of their location.

Health care

Automation significantly impacts record keeping in health care. Although quick manual access to a patient's medical records may save lives, it's still a challenge for many health centres. Automation helps to collect, save and access medical records in time for diagnosis. Automation is equally instrumental in pharmacology. For instance, sophisticated machines perform analyses and testing faster with little room for error. This allows for the production of personalised medicine.

Mining and hydrocarbon exploration

Innovative machinery and safety measures are the two major concerns in this field. Until recently, mining activities relied heavily on manual labour and simple mining tools. Mining approaches were usually speculative, with no accurate knowledge of the location of the target mineral. This procedure made mining operations relatively long and unsafe for miners. From enhanced mineral recovery to navigating through enclosed mines, automation engineers now produce machines or software suites to ease mining operations and protect miners.

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Construction

Modern-day construction depends on technology for various processes, from planning to completion. Automation plays a major role in speeding up construction and performing small yet essential tasks. Certain software packages help architects and construction engineers design projects easily. Besides completing structural designs, automation also assists in the construction process by using robots to mould and lay bricks, for example.

Automotive industry

The production of vehicles continues to benefit immensely from automation. Perhaps the most significant application of this innovative approach is in the coupling and assembling of vehicle parts. To illustrate, a typical car has approximately 30,000 parts. While it may take months to assemble these parts by hand, many manufacturers automatically assemble car parts in less than 20 hours.

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Food industry

Besides boosting food production, automation helps to provide timely service and makes it easier for customers to order food. For example, automation engineers create apps where customers order food at home or in restaurants. They may also create robots to serve customers in restaurants. An automation engineer's contribution helps to reduce work-related stress in employees and enhances the quality of customer service.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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