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Becoming a Control Engineer

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Control engineers analyze industrial systems and devices, and install and manage computer-based equipment and instrumentation in order to optimize their output. These goals are achieved by controlling each phase of the production process and so optimizing the operation of the whole system.

The Job:

Working in a processing environment, particularly in the oil, chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries, control engineers use sensors placed in carefully selected strategic positions around the plant to obtain crucial information on processing conditions. These may include temperature, pressure, heat transfer, and flow of liquids.

Signals containing information from these sensors are transmitted to a computer, which collects and orders it. A visible indication of the conditions within the plant may also be provided via instrumentation that allows manual changes to be made to the conditions of the plant. Control systems are often used to inform plant operators of critical or emergency conditions that may be building up within the process plant.

The controlling computer has software programs that record and analyze the data the computer receives. These either make automatic decisions or assist the operators by feeding them with relevant information.

In continuous-belt manufacturing systems, a control system can alter the speed of the process, count, weigh, and measure the product at various crucial stages, as well as manage the activities of robots or computer-assisted engineering tools.

Some control engineers are employed by the producers of control equipment to design, develop, and install their products at customers’ premises. Control engineers sometimes provide an after-sales repair or maintenance service. There may also be opportunities to work with control engineering consultants, who advise their clients on the best system to buy for their plant, purchase the equipment, install and commission it, as well as train the staff in its use. Control engineers working in a consultancy, sales, or after-sales service capacity tend to travel considerably more than those employed to solve the control problems of one company.

Military uses of control systems – in ships and submarines, aircraft and missiles, and the control of weapons used by armies – also provide employment for those working in the armed forces, defense ministries, or for equipment suppliers.

Training Involved:

Training undertaken by control engineers covers the broad areas of design, testing, and experimenting with installed systems on site. In design, they may be analyzing systems in detail, deciding the parameters to be controlled and how they are to be measured. Some of the training will be plant based, developing processes that are more efficient by devising changes to the various systems of control.

In the petrochemical industry especially, but also in other industrial sectors, safety and reliability are of fundamental importance. Training for this work includes risk assessment and gaining a thorough knowledge of relevant legislation.

Useful Qualifications to Have:

Useful subjects include: science, mathematics, and computer studies.

Salary Expectations:

The base salary range of a Control Engineer ranges from $57,936 to $80,971 annually, while the median salary for most Control Engineers is $70,500 annually. (US Base Pay)

Future Prospects:

As industries compete to improve the quality of their products, the economics of their production, and the productivity of their plant, control engineers are finding themselves in demand worldwide. Since many of the major employers are multinational concerns, there should be ample opportunities for working abroad.

Continuing development of the techniques of information technology and computer systems and their application make control engineering a fast-changing career. One example is the continuing application of artificial intelligence and knowledge-based systems to the operation of a processing plant.

Further progress in the computing and networking field can only increase the work available for control engineers. They are particularly in demand by chemical manufacturers, including detergent and health-care products producers, agrochemical companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. They are also sought by food an drink producers.

In the oil industry, control systems are used to manage the operation of several oil-production rigs at sea from one land-based control room. These systems also control the flow of oil down the pipelines that distribute it from oil wells, and they are employed to a great extent in the petrochemical plant that produces petrol and many byproducts that are manufactured from crude oil.

For further information, contact professional institutions concerned with control engineering, electronic, electrical, or chemical engineering. Also contact universities with relevant courses, associations of companies that manufacture components for control systems, and consultancies working in the field of electronic engineering.

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