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What is an Automation Engineer and How Can I Become One?

Tom Evans our consultant managing the role
Posted by Tom Evans
Published on 1 June 2024
Automation engineers play a key role in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, helping to streamline their manufacturing processes. Responsible for building and maintaining the automated technology that controls these processes, automation engineers have the power to reduce operational costs and maximise efficiency. This is one of the finest examples of how automation is creating new jobs and challenges the idea that robotics will replace humans in the workplace. Read on to hear about the daily routine of an automation engineer and how you can become one.

The Rise of Automation Engineer Jobs

In today's dynamic life science landscape, automation engineer jobs are increasingly in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47% of jobs are susceptible to automation. Automation Engineers within the life science industry are instrumental in designing and implementing automated systems that optimise efficiency and productivity within laboratories.

Automation is driving efficiency to unprecedented levels within the life science industry. A report by McKinsey & Company highlights how automation technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), can streamline workflows and reduce operational costs by up to 30%. By automating repetitive tasks like sample handling and data entry, laboratories can significantly increase throughput while minimising errors.

The day-to-day tasks

It’s an automation engineer’s role to keep systems operational, meaning that troubleshooting is a regular feature in their daily routine. This involves reporting how processes are performing to colleagues and offering technical advice concerning the operation of automation projects to stakeholders. An automation engineering job can therefore be a highly collaborative role. Aside from identifying possible issues and fixing them, professionals in this line of work are involved in continuous improvement of systems and on hand to help programme new automated components.

In some cases, automation engineers will be required to build management systems and deliver them on to a new site. For automation engineers involved in the design process, a simulation protocol must be followed to confirm that the equipment can perform the function it’s intended to.

What organisations can you work in?

An automation engineering career can open doors into many different industries including oil and gas, food and beverage, water and life sciences. Within life sciences, automation engineers can explore diverse job opportunities in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology and biochemical companies.

The intersection of technology and life sciences is complex - just consider the applications of robotics and automation within pharmacovigilance. But automation engineers are there to ensure that the relationship is seamless and that all systems, including the distributed control system (DCS), are running at their full potential. If you’re looking for a job where you can apply your technical skills and enhance patients’ lives, life sciences might just be the industry for you. Though 2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year there are exciting times ahead for life sciences and those working in the industry.

Experience you might need

  • An HND qualification or degree in Computer Science or Engineering 
  • Knowledge of systems, including Siemens Desigo CC/Insight, Xworks and PX controllers
  • Experience working with control panels and PLC control systems
  • Management of automation CAPAs
  • Certified in DeltaV DCS 
  • Knowledge of Java, C++ and Python is advantageous

The soft skills 

Though qualifications and experience help you to stand out from other candidates - particularly in a competitive job market – employers are recognising that soft skills have the potential to address the emerging skills gap. In fact, a recent survey found that 93% employers found agree that soft skills were as important or more important than hard skills. Amongst the most important soft skills for automation engineers are relationship management and communication. Professionals in this role will need to work with colleagues and clients at all levels of seniority, as well as explaining complex estimations to people in different disciplines. And being a problem-solving role, analytical and creative thinking are both essential for troubleshooting tasks.

If you follow this career path you may have to weigh up the benefits of working contract vs permanent and though it can be a tricky decision, it gives you the freedom to find a job that works best for you.

Ready for your next career move?

If you’re looking to start your automation engineer career or take the next step then we can help. Quanta has been providing recruitment solutions since 1992 and our team of specialist consultants are experts in their markets. Find your next automation engineer role by checking out our life sciences jobs. If you can’t find what you’re looking for register with us and you’ll be able to create job alerts and hear about new opportunities that match your preferences.