A career in control and systems engineering

A career in control and systems engineering

BRIGHT MINDS

A career in control and systems engineering

Modern life is increasingly dependent on systems that have to operate independently to achieve a specified purpose accurately and safely. From smartphones and cars, to medical devices and defence systems, control and systems engineering allows you to explore from the depths of the sea to the surface of our planets.

The list of systems and control engineering applications is endless. The world needs systems and control engineers who are educated to a high standard and have the potential to define new innovative, value-driven and personalised systems and services. System and control engineers are the people who analyse, optimise, control and design complex systems that are all around us. Creating such complex systems requires great skill, and engineers with this know-how are in high demand world-wide.

Applications

If this demand is going to be met, then the number of students studying and progressing through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects needs to increase dramatically. STEM subjects are amongst some of the most important subjects that provide a skill set desired by numerous employers. Not only do STEM skills underpin innovation and future economic growth, but also help prepare students for exciting and prosperous careers in engineering.

Many engineering employers prefer university graduates with multi-disciplinary engineering backgrounds, such as control and systems engineering, as opposed to more specific disciplines. Studying a broader engineering discipline teaches students about the fundamental and advanced concepts of systems modelling, simulation, control and their application to solve various engineering system performance analysis and control problems.

There is a focus on understanding and solving various theoretical and practical challenges and though it may seem generic, this area of engineering is anything but, covering a diverse range of specialities that draw on core engineering skills. For example, the areas of mechatronics and robotics, industrial systems, and computer systems among many others.

Control and systems engineering is an excellent, broad-based subject that allows students to become experts in the advanced control systems analysis and the design techniques used in industry. Engineering applications in manufacturing, aerospace, robotics, energy, finance, healthcare and a host of other areas are predominantly computer-based or computer-controlled.

In order to create such applications, students need to acquire proficiency in programming languages. Engineering applications are typically complex, so students also need to acquire proficiency in analytical problem solving and the ability to apply a systems approach to design and implementation.

Doing the math

Core mathematical competencies are also required by students for a systems engineering programme. This covers basic algebra and functions, elementary calculus (differentiation and integration), solution of low order differential equations, Taylor series, iterative methods, matrix algebra, simultaneous equations, vectors and complex numbers.

Systems engineering has a widespread impact on many industries, so career opportunities are excellent. System modelling, design and analysis skills can also be applied in many disciplines outside engineering, for instance — weather forecasting, economic system modelling, financial forecasting and the analysis of geological and medical data.

Qualified systems and control engineers make a genuine difference in the world. They build robots and design manufacturing processes. They can even help to predict climate change, financial trends or reserves of raw materials. This means that graduates are highly employable both within engineering and in numerous other fields. There are still too few systems engineers to meet the demands of employers, so graduates are in demand in a buoyant career market.

(The author is director of learning and teaching, Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, University of Sheffield, UK)

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