Education and Training: Master's or doctoral degree
Salary: $50,000 to $60,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Robotics engineers work in the science of robotics, or flexible automation. Most robots are "manipulators"—machines devised to function in place of a human. Some robots function as "walking" machines, or teleoperators, using remote control or sensory manipulators. Microprocessors, which are very small computers, direct most robots in their tasks.
Robotics engineers are responsible for designing, testing, and building robots that are productive and safe to operate as well as economical to purchase and maintain. These engineers use computer-aided design and drafting, and computer-aided manufacturing (CADD/CAM) systems to perform their tasks. Robotics research engineers design robotic systems and research methods to manufacture them economically. Robotics engineers who work for robot manufacturers are sometimes called robotics test engineers or automation system engineers. These engineers apply the robotic system to a particular use on a manufacturing assembly line. They also create an integrated environment between people and machinery.
Robotics applications vary widely. Robots are used in the automotive, aerospace, metals, nuclear, mining, textile, and computer industries, among others. The robotics engineer must determine the particular needs of each application and customize the robot accordingly. To do this, robotics engineers must plan the computer programs suitable for the robot installation. They must also prepare specifications for the robot's capabilities as they relate to the work environment. In addition, robotics engineers are responsible for developing cost proposals, efficiency studies, and quality control reports.
Most robotics engineers are employed by private robot manufacturers or robot users. Some engineers work in military and space programs. Others work for colleges and universities or vocational and trade schools.
Education and Training Requirements
You generally need at least a bachelor's degree in engineering to enter this field. Because robotics technology draws on the expertise of many different engineering disciplines, engineers who specialize in robotics often have degrees in mechanical, manufacturing, electrical, electronic, or industrial engineering. Some colleges and universities now offer robotics engineering degrees. Robotics courses typically include training in hydraulics and pneumatics, CADD/CAM systems, numerically controlled systems, microprocessors, integrated systems, and logic. It usually takes four to five years to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering. Some colleges offer work-study programs in which students receive on-the-job training while still in school. Most universities that offer robotics courses have well-equipped labs with lasers and CADD/CAM equipment. For most positions and to advance in the field you need a master's or doctoral degree. Robotics engineers must continually upgrade their technical knowledge to keep abreast of new developments in this rapidly changing field.
Like engineers in other disciplines, robotics engineers must be able to work well as team members. They must be able to communicate their ideas effectively. Those entering this field should have an aptitude for mathematics, physics, chemistry, and electronics. They should also be skilled in using computers.
Getting the Job
Your college placement office may be able to help you find a job as a robotics engineer. If you are enrolled in a work-study program during college, you may be able to continue working for a participating employer after graduation. Check the classifieds in newspapers and professional trade journals for possible job openings. You can also apply directly to robot manufacturers or to firms in industries that use robots. A number of computer firms are entering the robot manufacturing market, so be sure to check this source. Conventions of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence and computer science organizations may also be a good job marketplace.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Robotics engineers can advance to management positions and become robotics managers or directors of automation. Some robotics engineers advance by moving into robot sales or by starting their own robotics consulting firms.
The employment outlook for robotics engineers is very good. Increasing use of robots is expected in many different manufacturing industries. The military will also operate more robots in the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast a need for more than eight hundred thousand people in this high-growth field to design, maintain, and operate robots.
Most robotics engineers are employed in offices, manufacturing plants, or laboratories. Manufacturing plants may be noisy, depending on the industry. Robotics engineers usually work forty hours per week. They may also have to work overtime, especially when project deadlines must be met.
Where to Go for More Information
Robotics International of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers
P.O. Box 930
One SME Dr.
Dearborn, MI 48121-0930
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on the experience of the robotics engineer, the location, and the kind of job. In 2006 robotics engineers earned from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.