Automation Engineer

Hanif, 25, studied mechanical engineering for five years at the University of Waterloo. He now works as an automation engineer for an automated systems/robotics company.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become an automation engineer? How did you become an automation engineer? What do you do as an automation engineer?
Hanif:
I've always been fascinated by any form of machinery. From a small child who had to stop to look at the construction site to the teenager who became interested in cars to the mid-twenties guy I am now playing with million-dollar machines at work ...

To become an automation engineer I completed the honours co-op mechanical engineering program at the University of Waterloo. I specialized in materials science, management science, manufacturing processes, automation and robotics.

As an automation engineer I design, build and test various pieces of automated machinery. From the electrical wiring to the tooling, to the vision system setup to software debugging. The types of machines I work on personally are the higher precision machines with placement accuracies in the sub-micron range.

Basically, any manufacturing process that is done manually, or by hand, can be automated. We design and build those automated machines. For example, people can pick up a part from one side or conveyor, and, let's say, glue it down to another part, but the alignment between the two parts can be controlled to less than a micron. We build machines that could, for example, assemble a disposable razor where tolerances are much wider, i.e., 100-150 microns and up.

I work in the "advanced systems group" within the automation systems group; we build the more advanced and accurate machines with motors and controllers that can achieve sub-micron accuracy.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Hanif:
The thing I like most about my job is that I get to see a project through from the beginning to the end, starting with the design review meetings followed by floor assembly, unit testing, integration debugging, pre- and final acceptance test plans, to the final installation at the customer's site.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Hanif:
My least favourite part of the job is all of the ISO documentation required.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming an automation engineer?
Hanif:
To become an automation engineer I think that you have really got to have mechanical aptitude. There are some people I have worked with who didn't have this quality - they were quickly transferred into other departments. Having that "feel" for how things should work really helps to troubleshoot that impossible problem.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an automation engineer? What kind of education did you get?
Hanif:
To become an automation engineer at the company I work for you must have an engineering degree specializing in either electrical, mechanical or industrial engineering. You can also become an automation technologist if you have a technical diploma from a community college. Many of our best integrators have such a diploma.

Stephanie: What is your favourite car? Why?
Hanif:
The McLaren F1 Supercar. 600+ horsepower, mid-engine rear wheel drive, 2000-lb chassis, central driving position, gullwing-style doors, HUGE tires, HUGE brakes, 0-200 MPH in 28 seconds, 220 MPH top speed - what more could you ask for?

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