Are you considering a career in PLC programming? Awesome! I can tell you, first-hand, learning how to program PLC’s (and how to debug under pressure) is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. Maybe you’ve been considering attending a tech school, or have been talking to a friend who is a licensed electrician or who works for an automation integrator. Maybe you’ve developed an interest in industrial automation on your own and want to know more about becoming a controls engineer or PLC programmer.
Where are you in your journey? I want to hear from you in the comments!
Should You Become A PLC Programmer?
Whatever your background and level of interest, I’d like to offer my five suggestions for what might make PLC programming the right job for you!
1. You Think Automation Is Cool
But, I mean, who doesn’t, right? If the thought of setting up new systems, developing algorithms and sequences of operation, and programming robots and Programmable Logic Controllers sounds like it’s up your alley, then why not go for it?
Not everyone gets to do what they love, but if you have a true interest in automation, becoming a PLC programmer will allow you to learn how to establish and control automated processes. What could be cooler than that?!
2. You Love To Learn
Being a good programmer means treating every situation as an opportunity to learn more about the PLC, the programming template, the production line, and the equipment you’re controlling. As the “controller of the controller,” if you will, it’s not enough to be knowledgeable about just programming. The whole point of the PLC is to accept inputs and set outputs to and from alllllll the many field devices – conveyors, robots, I/O blocks, fixtures, actuators, sensors, servos, … , the list goes on forever.
Industrial automation is home to a thriving ecosystem of devices, equipment, and communications protocols. For instance, every imaginable flavor of communication can be found out there, from modern 10/100 (and faster) Ethernet to 9600 baud serial connections. As someone who designs and debugs PLC logic, you will need to work to grow your understanding at every layer of your production equipment.
This means you must strive to build your knowledge of everything in the plant. From physical cabling to vendor-specific camera solutions used on your vision systems, eventually, it’s going to break! When it does, people will be looking to you to come up with solutions to highly technical issues.
Long story short, as an industrial electrician, electrical engineer, or anyone else who does PLC programming, you should be learning something new every day. Don’t worry – what you don’t learn on your own, the breakdowns will teach you. 😀
3. You Love Solving Puzzles
Often times, as an automation engineer, you will find recurring issues with the equipment that no one knows how to fix. It will be your job to figure out what’s wrong.
- … a bug in the original programming is allowing 1 in every 100 units to go through without a certain part being installed
- … ten times a day a certain fault occurs and stops production, and there doesn’t seem to be any discernible pattern as to what’s causing the issue
- … you’re having trouble with a complicated sequence of events that occurs within milliseconds
- … you have to debug an exchange of data between two PLC’s that takes place over your industrial network
As a PLC or robotics programmer or engineer, people will often look to you to “deep dive” the tough, troublesome, technical issues that evade understanding. When you are working in that role, it’s likely that you will be presented with difficult troubleshooting situations that will require a deep understanding of the equipment and technology in question.
4. You Work Well In Challenging Situations
The first rule of PLC programming is: all logic requires debug. Whether you’re setting up a new process or troubleshooting an issue with an existing system, as a “controls guy” (or “controls gal” 🙂 ), people will be looking to you to get the equipment working again.
You know what they say – no guts, no glory. Excellent programmers or controls engineers are able to enter challenging situations with a cool head. Once you’ve quickly gained an understanding of the problem, it’s time to work with your teammates to determine and correct the issue.
Adept PLC programmers who work in production (manufacturing) environments will likely be called to the toughest breakdowns. As your skills and knowledge grow, you will become more and more comfortable working in tense, time-sensitive situations. The key is to always strive to learn.
5. You Love To Think Creatively, Logically, And Analytically
PLC programmers need to be able to:
- Analyze a situation or a problem to be solved
- Think of a possible solution
- Come up with a way to turn that solution into logic
- Write that logic and debug, debug, debug!
When you’re striving to make equipment run, it’s sometimes easy to get tunnel vision and hone in on one possible solution. As such, PLC programmers need to be aware of the logic and the equipment with which they’re working, so they can pull the right programming “tool” out of their “tool bag” and put it to work to solve the problem. Sometimes, you have to step back and think, “is this the only way I could attack this issue, or could there be an easier way?” This may be the best way to jar yourself out of the tunnel and start thinking creatively.
What Do You Think?
Do you fit the bill? Tell me what you think in the comments below! I want to know where you’re at in your own journey towards becoming a world-class PLC programmer.
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Thanks for reading!