Control engineering: industry sector overview

Graduates with a good understanding of software engineering are needed to help develop control systems.

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Advanced electrical and control systems are a significant factor in the modern industrial workplace. Reducing the operating costs and optimising the efficiency of automated processes and production lines is essential for manufacturing companies to maintain a competitive edge and meet the increased environmental legislation and validation requirements demanded by regulatory authorities. Companies in this sector range from the big names that produce control systems such as Invensys, General Electric and ABB, through to a large number of small companies that develop specialist devices and equipment such as sensors or, like my company, robotic technology.

Trends and developments in control engineering

The increased power and lower cost of processors has seen a dramatic increase in devices with embedded, intelligent controllers. This technology also opens up the facility for self-diagnosis in some applications. On the factory floor, improved communication systems and wireless networking have revolutionised industrial practice. From a business point of view, key developments include reducing plant energy consumption and emissions from power generation methods.

Getting a graduate job in control engineering

The right engineering degree is needed to specialise in particular areas of this sector - in control work there is a big emphasis on software engineering because of the embedded system nature of controllers. In addition, numerical skills, the ability to think on your feet and learn quickly, self-motivation and adaptability are essential.

It's a broad sector so there are lots of different ways in. Companies will have their own recruitment schemes and training programmes and you will need to look at the different areas in which you could work, such as R&D, production or maintenance and decide what area would suit best your skills and aspirations.

The highlights and the downsides of a career in control engineering

The work is interesting and day-to-day there is huge variety in what you'll do - from design and development to testing and report writing. Seeing a complete system come together from the start is very satisfying. Salaries aren't the best in the world when you start out and near to deadlines hours can be long.

Thanks to David Hamilton for his help with this article. David is a principal consultant with Oxford Technologies Limited.

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