What is a Control Systems Engineer?

A Control Systems Engineer is responsible for designing, developing, and implementing solutions that control dynamic systems. Dynamic systems are systems that constantly change. The aim of a Control Systems Engineer is to bring stability to these constantly changing systems to produce the desired outcome.

It is a field of engineering that is wide and varied. One example to help illustrate the role of a Control Systems Engineers is the development of anti-lock braking systems in cars. So, according to the definition above, a Control Systems Engineer in this situation will design, develop, and implement systems that control the behaviour of the car’s brakes in various conditions, i.e. different speeds, road surface conditions, brake temperatures, etc.

At SL Controls, our expertise is in manufacturing, specifically manufacturing in regulated industries such as pharmaceutical manufacturing and medical device manufacturing. So, the more detailed explanation of the role of a Control Systems Engineer in this blog focuses on the manufacturing industry.

What a Control Systems Engineer Does in a Manufacturing Environment

The dynamic system that a Control Systems Engineer works on in a manufacturing environment is a production line. This could be an entire production line or part of a production line.

Most production lines have a range of different components. This includes human components as well as technological components including robots, vision systems, and more. A Control Systems Engineer integrates and coordinates all these components to ensure they work efficiently, i.e. ensuring products are of a consistent quality and that the production line meets volume targets.

How Control Systems Engineers Work

The Control Systems Engineer measures changes in the production line through sensors, as an example. Crucially, sensor technology has advanced considerably over recent years making it possible to use sensors in a much wider range of applications.

Most of the work a Control Systems Engineer does is on a computer using mathematical modelling. By using computer simulations, a Control Systems Engineer can determine how to control the system’s variables and, ultimately, the production line. They will then develop software, so this control can be applied in a real-world situation.

As automation technology is now so advanced and is becoming more common in manufacturing facilities, most Control Systems Engineers actually perform the role of Automation and Control Systems Engineers as much of their remit is to develop control systems that automate production lines.

How to Become a Control Systems Engineer

Many Control Systems Engineers start by getting degree qualifications in electrical engineering. While getting an appropriate degree is essential in getting a job as a Control Systems Engineer, having a wider range of skills and knowledge is also important. This includes:

  • Knowledge and experience of automation and control technologies and systems – examples include Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), SCADA systems, and, often, Vision Systems.
  • Software development skills – including knowledge of C/C++/C#, VB, SQL, and Java.
  • Strong mathematical abilities – as computer modelling and simulations are a core part of the role of a Control Systems Engineer.
  • Strong problem-solving skills – there are no two projects, production lines, or problems that are the same, so problem-solving skills are essential.
  • Good communication – this is especially important as a Control Systems Engineer needs to be across all aspects of the project.
  • Knowledge of network services – this includes LAN, WAN, WLAN, VPN, and more. This is becoming increasingly important given the growing use of remote access and monitoring on production lines.

In summary, to be a good Control Systems Engineer, you must enjoy making things work as efficiently as possible and in a way that delivers on objectives.

It is a rewarding career, not least because of the problem-solving element and because every day is different.

Shane McLaughlin

Shane is SL Controls’ Business Development Manager and has extensive experience and a demonstrated history of working in the regulated automation industry. His areas of expertise include Verification and Validation (V&V), Process Control/Monitoring, Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical, Bio Pharma, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, and systems engineering. He also has experience leading technical teams and delivering to demanding schedules.

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