Mechanical Engineers

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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?

We are always trying to find new careers to feature in the spotlight! If there is a career you would like to know more about, please let us know what it is, and we will do what we can to include it on the site. E-mail your suggestions to