There are a myriad of career possibilities for instrumentation engineers. For example, they might design strain gauges or sensors that capture data about the safety, efficiency, and reliability of machines used in manufacturing. They also might design devices like blood glucose monitors, aircraft sensors, smoke detectors, or dynamometers that measure torque. They might develop electrocardiograph equipment and computed tomography scanners, or they might work on security systems. In addition, instrumentation engineers have been essential to the success of every aeronautical research project ever flown. Instrumentation engineers might be employed by manufacturing firms, defense contractors, biomedical companies, or government entities; or they might work for private engineering firms.
Instrumentation engineers must hold at least a bachelor's degree in engineering, engineering technology, or a math-related field. Though the exact discipline varies depending upon the industry in which you plan to work, most instrumentation engineers hold a degree in electrical, mechanical, or computer engineering. Graduate-level degrees are preferred by many employers and may even be required for some advanced positions.
All engineers must have a strong aptitude for math and physics. Instrumentation engineers must also possess strong communication skills, including the ability to translate project needs into the design and development of hardware suitable for the task. Excellent problem solving skills and an ability to think outside the box are essential, since many instrumentation engineers find themselves called upon to solve uniquely challenging problems.
Job Outlook and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of architecture and engineering professionals would grow more slowly than average from 2014-2024, at a rate of 3%. Instrumentation engineers, however, play a vital role in the development of automation techniques in manufacturing and processing plants and may see more growth opportunities than in other engineering fields. While pay is highly dependent upon industry and education, PayScale.com reported that the median salary for instrumentation engineers was $78,258 as of January 2016.
Alternate Career Paths
If instrumentation engineer doesn't sound like the career for you, you might consider mechanical or electronics engineer as an alternate career path.
A mechanical engineer develops thermal and mechanical solutions to problems using the principles of engineering. Mechanical engineers use computer-aided design programs to come up with prototypes and test them. Mechanical engineers can work in a variety of fields and on a wide array of machines, from engines and turbines to conveyor belt systems to refrigeration systems. This career requires a bachelor's degree, and an advanced degree may be required for research jobs. Mechanical engineers who work with the public are required to hold a professional engineering license, which requires a minimum of education, work experience, and testing. Mechanical engineers can also earn professional certification. The BLS predicts that employment of mechanical engineers will increase 5% from 2014-2024. It also reports that mechanical engineers earned annual median pay of $83,590 as of May 2015.
Electronics engineers design, develop, test, and modify electrical components used across industries and for a wide variety of applications in fields like navigation, broadcasting, and satellite technology. A bachelor's degree in electronics engineering is required for employment. Earning a professional engineering license, which requires a combination of education, experience, and testing, can improve job prospects; licensing requirements are uncommon but vary. Electrical and electronics engineers can expect little or no change in employment opportunities from 2014-2024, per the BLS. The median annual pay for electronics engineers (excepting computer hardware engineers) was $98,270 as of May 2015.
In summary, instrumentation engineers can work in a number of fields including manufacturing, defense, biomedicine, and government. Or, they might work for private engineering firms. A bachelor's degree typically is needed to begin in this career.