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To ensure smooth automation processes, individuals who are makers, decision-makers, and responsible parties are necessary. All these demands are fulfilled by an Automation Engineer. Their tasks start with designing the hardware and software components for automated systems. They are part of the installation team and responsible for optimization and testing. Their responsibilities also include constant monitoring during conception, installation, testing, and operation phases.
Although the boom in automation occurred in recent decades, the idea is far from new. Even in ancient Greece, automatons were designed to make life as comfortable as possible. Of course, the methods and means of automation have evolved significantly from the mechanically built doors of the past. A standard – DIN 19233 – defines what automation technology represents today: the use of artificial means to allow processes to run independently. While automation used to rely purely on mechanical means thousands of years ago, the invention of electricity brought new possibilities. The chances of information technology and digitalization of production processes have since grown exponentially. For instance, robots and their programming have become integral parts of the manufacturing chain. The use of Artificial Intelligence is increasing as it serves as the basis for the development of automation systems.
In general, Automation Engineers work on the development, installation, and maintenance of automated technical systems. As an Automation Engineer, your role starts with developing hardware and software tailored to enable automation in your operation. Engineers in automation are also responsible for selecting materials crucial for constructing the systems. Installation and commissioning are carried out with a team of specialists. Feedback from production is used to optimize already operational automation systems. Processes are revised and streamlined to maximize production efficiency. When needed, subsystems are implemented and tailored to specific requirements. Parameter estimation, algorithms, and adaptive control are essential components of the daily work. They are used to review already operational automation systems, optimize them, or, if necessary, replace them with more targeted models. Regular inspections, maintenance, and servicing are essential to ensure the smooth operation of systems and processes. Automation Engineers are also responsible for troubleshooting and resolving issues.
If you have a strong affinity for the natural sciences and mathematics, you can turn your talent and interest into a profession. To begin a study program in automation technology, you will need to have completed a technical high school diploma (Fachabitur) or obtained a general higher education entrance qualification (Allgemeine Hochschulreife).
There are specific degree programs available at:
where you can pursue your studies in automation technology. Specialized courses in control engineering, process automation, and related fields also lead to the goal of working as an engineer in the automation industry. Additionally, other study programs can be tailored to focus on automation topics. Those who have already engaged with automation during their studies in electrical engineering, mechatronics, or mechanical engineering have good career prospects. Master’s graduates are often preferred by companies. Even more advantage goes to those who have gained practical experience in automation through internships or part-time jobs during their studies. Often, individuals who gain practical experience in a relevant company are hired immediately after completing their studies.
Those who have completed an apprenticeship in the automation field before deciding to pursue a degree also stand out. Furthermore, having solid language skills, not only in English, opens up many doors in the professional world. Automation engineers who have gained work experience abroad find it easier to reach leadership positions.
The personal soft skills that an ideal candidate should possess are essential for all technical professions. For a future automation engineer, the following are particularly important:
These are indispensable qualities that transform a student into a practical engineer who excels in their workplace.
However, hard skills also play a significant role in determining the career prospects of an automation engineer. Many of these skills are acquired during studies, but practical experience through internships is highly desirable. Apart from good academic results in math, physics, electrical and systems engineering, a solid knowledge of mechanical engineering is also expected. Additionally, proficiency in programming languages such as PLC and C/C should be second nature during the course of study.
Engineers specializing in automation technology can find job opportunities in companies that produce measurement technology and drive control systems. Businesses focused on areas such as robotics, vehicle manufacturing, production and packaging machinery, or traffic control systems rely heavily on the involvement of automation engineers.
The specifics of the job in practice depend on the individual company. For instance, some tasks, like theoretical system development and software writing, might be carried out in a home office setting. In contrast, other companies prefer these tasks to be performed by a team on-site. The job roles can vary, ranging from material procurement and testing as a primary focus to predominantly optimizing and verifying automation systems.
Various institutions offer certification courses that can be pursued by automation engineering professionals. The IHK (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) and the VDI (Association of German Engineers) provide further education in quality management. This knowledge supports engineers in their daily work and is an essential requirement for obtaining the relevant quality standards certification in the company.
The VDI, for example, offers courses for becoming a specialist engineer in various fields. The received certificate is more than just an additional job title. It opens up further interesting job opportunities, increasing the chances of getting hired and expanding the choices of workplaces. Some intriguing courses include becoming a specialist engineer for building automation, sensor technology, or additive manufacturing.
Moreover, leadership qualities can be developed and demonstrated through additional training and certifications. These courses are also beneficial, as are business-related further education opportunities, especially if a career as a freelance automation engineer is pursued after the initial years of professional experience.
For freelancers or companies looking to hire freelancers, valuable information is available for download here.