Because automation engineering requires hands-on instruction, especially in the use of high-tech equipment, online and hybrid programs in this field are rare. There are online bachelor's programs in related fields such as industrial engineering technology or manufacturing operations.
In a campus-based automation engineering program, students learn to repair, troubleshoot and maintain automated equipment used in areas such as industrial electronics, process control and electromechanical systems. These programs can lead to associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees. Some programs require coursework in various engineering fields to be completed before admission. Graduate level programs may require work experience as well as a bachelor's degree. In-person requirements include laboratory and field work.
Associate's Degree in Automation Engineering
Associate's degree programs are available as an Associate of Science in Automation Engineering Technology or as an Associate of Science in Automated Systems with a concentration in mechatronics. These programs are typically campus-based. Major areas of study include theoretical and practical instruction in the integration of mechanical, electrical, fluid power and computer technologies to control automated equipment. These programs are intended to provide a foundation in all aspects of automation engineering, establishing a path for future specialization.
Program Information and Requirements
Applicants are required to possess a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Some courses can be taken online through a distance-learning content management system such as Blackboard. However, because the complete curriculum for an associate's degree in automation engineering generally requires students to participate in a classroom or laboratory environment, fully online programs are extremely rare. Students also have the opportunity to gain work experience with an approved employer in an area related to a student's learning program.
Students examine the theories and technologies used in automated engineering and manufacturing. They learn the roles and responsibilities of the members of a manufacturing team.
Introduction to Automated Manufacturing
In this course, students are introduced to the computer-based technologies that are used in the field of automated manufacturing. Topics include computer-aided design (CAD), computer numerical control (CNC), programmable logic controllers (PLC), and computer integrated manufacturing (CIM). Students also receive instruction in the programming of industrial robots.
Programmable Logic Controllers
This course covers the installation, operation and programming of industrial programmable controllers (PLCs). Students review the types and components of PLC systems and receive practical instruction in their use in an industrial control environment.
Industrial Computer Technology
Students explore the use of computers in automated engineering and manufacturing. They will be tasked to develop a technical presentation through the use of word processing, spreadsheet and graphical applications.
Bachelor's Degree in Automation Engineering
Bachelor's degree programs allow students to build on their knowledge of automation engineering by exploring one or more specialized areas of study, such as mechatronics, process planning and manufacturing methods. Most of these programs are campus-based and combine textbook assignments and classroom discussions with laboratory projects and field work.
Program Information and Requirements
Some institutions require bachelor's candidates to complete prerequisite coursework in computer-aided design (CAD), programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and introductory automation engineering. Emphasis is placed on the application of engineering principles in practice.
Bachelor's degree program students examine the application of accepted engineering practices in automation engineering conditions. They gain advanced knowledge of the philosophies and theories that guide how automation engineering is applied in a manufacturing environment.
Manufacturing Operations Management
In this course, students examine best practices in the management of an industrial manufacturing operation. They explore techniques in managing material, finances and personnel and how these resources are combined to create machine-automated products for internal and external customers.
Heating System Fundamentals
Students learn the basic concepts of applied commercial building and industrial facility heating systems. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the operation of steam and hydronic boilers, pumps, warm-air furnace units and fans and blowers. Topics of discussion include types of heating systems and identification of system components.
This course provides an overview of the organizational and functional requirements necessary for the production machine-automated products. Areas of study include specification analysis, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing and the roles and responsibilities of each member of a production team. Students are tasked with writing an assembly production plan.
Master's Degree in Automation Engineering
Master's degree programs in automation engineering are available as a Master of Science in Engineering Automation or a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in automation. Graduate programs provide advanced theoretical and practical knowledge in the areas of automated engineering systems and manufacturing platforms. These programs are generally delivered on-campus.
Program Information and Requirements
Applicants typically must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Some institutions may require students to have work experience in machine or engineering automation. Most programs require either a thesis or a field practicum in order to satisfy the master's degree curriculum.
Master's students examine current issues in automation engineering. They perform research and apply specialized skills in areas including thermodynamics, supply chain and machine dynamics.
Design Analysis of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS)
In this course, students examine the design and mechanical properties of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Topics of discussion include mechanical properties, microfabrication techniques and system issues.
This course provides an overview of mechatronics, which is defined as the combination of mechanical and control engineering, electronics and computers into a single design process. Topics of discussion include mechatronic system design, analog and digital control electronics and real-time programming for control.
Students apply their skills in computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) in a factory/manufacturing environment. Major areas of study include surface and solid modeling, data exchange standards and advanced modeling tools.
Graduates with an associate's degree are generally qualified for entry-level positions such as an associate mechanical engineer or junior automation engineer. In September 2019, PayScale.com reported that the annual salary of a junior automation engineer ranged from $40,000 - $75,000.
Bachelor's degree program graduates are generally equipped to attain positions qualified for entry-level positions such as automation design engineer, process control technician and building automation systems application engineer. Annual salaries for automation engineers ranged from $56,000 - $103,000 in November 2019, as reported by PayScale.com.
Graduates of a master's degree program are generally qualified for senior-level positions such as project manager or senior automation engineer. PayScale.com reported in November 2019 that the annual pay for a senior automation engineer with 1-4 years of experience averaged $76,000 - $131,000.
According to PayScale.com, in November 2019 workers with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree earned an average annual salary of approximately $58,000 - $120,000. Senior mechanical engineers averaged $75,000 - $130,000 and mechanical design engineers made $69,628.
Because of the hands-on nature of the field, online programs in automation engineering are rare, but do exist, more often in a hybrid format. They can be found at the associate's, bachelor's and master's level, and the level of education does affect the student's potential income.