Control systems engineering is the multidisciplinary application of control theory to real-world problems.
Control systems engineers have their industrious hands in the instrumentation and process controls of a range of industries, including automotive, manufacturing, oil and gas extraction, robotics. (Believe it or not, early control systems engineers once got their hands on an entire country.) Any complex process involving feedback control is an opportunity to apply their skills.
Control Systems Engineering Skill Set
Automation Federation offers a breakdown of the specifics of control systems engineering in automation, dividing the skill set into three domains. In a summary:
- Measurement and Control Elements: Devices that measure and analyze physical and chemical properties; devices that affect flows, energy, positions, speeds, and other variables; wiring between control element devices and equipment
- Conceptual System Design of Control and Information Systems: Analyze safety and/or hazards, security, and regulatory compliance; establish standards, templates, and guidelines; create specs and instrument data sheets; define data structure layouts and flow models; manage communication and network architecture and protocols; develop documents and test plans for projects
- Software Development and Coding: Develop human-machine interfaces; develop database and reporting functions; develop and review control configuration and programming; implement efficient and secure data transfer methodology; test and simulate systems; manage documentation
Few employers will specify that they’re seeking a control systems engineer. Instead, we see job listings with the following keywords:
- Controls Engineer
- Instrument & Controls Engineer
- Process Control Engineer
- Systems Engineer
- Automation Systems Engineer
- Manufacturing Automation Engineer
- Instrumentation & Electrical Engineer
Job Outlook and Salary
The outlook for control systems engineering jobs isn’t bad. Optimizing and automation equals saving energy and cutting costs, regardless of industry. As technology becomes more readily available, cheaper, and infinitely more powerful, there is increasing incentive to take advantage of robotics—and control systems engineers.
For growth and salary data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups control systems engineers with electronics engineers, in the controls and instruments subset. The median annual wage for electronics engineers was $94,250 ($45.31 per hour) in 2013. According to data from 2012, the growth rate for jobs was about 4%, which is slower than average. As automation and feedback-driven controls expand into more industries, we expect this to improve.
The highest concentrations of control systems engineering employment are in the following industries:
- Engineering and related services
- The federal executive branch
- Both wired and wireless telecommunications carriers
- Manufacture of semiconductors and other electronic component
- Manufacture of communications equipment
- Manufacture in navigational, electromedical, and control instruments
Open Textbooks for Control Systems Engineering
If you want to brush up on control theory before committing to a program of study, here are some freely-available texts to consider:
- Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers by Karl J. Åström and Richard M. Murray
- MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW)—There is a wealth of material under different disciplines: Aerospace, Chemical, Electrical, Mechanical… One common course across disciplines is Analysis and Design of Feedback Control Systems
- The Michigan Chemical Process Dynamics and Controls Open Text Book from Michigan Engineering at the University of Michigan. Written by the 2006 class and revised by the 2007 class.
- Control Systems from WikiBooks