December 19, 2017

Image courtesy of George Brown College.

Since the second half of the twenty-first century, mechanization and automation has turned the industrial world on its head. Today, most industrial machines operate thanks to the existence of PLCs, or Programmable Logic Controllers. It’s the true brain of many modern factories, controlling machinery and allowing an electronic technician with PLC training to start troubleshooting machines as soon as a problem detected. 

A PLC allows technicians to work with a range of different inputs and outputs, doing anything from turning a machine on or off to checking different sensors, and more. It essentially replaces machine-related functionalities that once had to be wired by a traditional electrician, and that required manual effort to undertake. As such, a PLC is responsible for a vast array of different operations, and a malfunctioning one can cost a manufacturing plant dearly if a solution is not found in a timely manner. 

Sometimes, PLC programmers will also work with robotics, especially given that more and more industries are turning towards sophisticated forms of automation in this modern day and age. PLC-based robotic controls can save companies money in the long run, and can facilitate programming, training, troubleshooting and maintenance. As such, it is not uncommon to see PLC programmers who also have some knowledge of robotics as well. 

PLC programming and the job market 

Those with the appropriate training in PLCs will find that there are many industries that work with such technology. Some examples of manufacturing sectors that hire PLC programmers include the food production industry and the auto industry.

One up-and-coming industry is the renewable energies sector. Renewable energy technologies include everything from solar power and wind power to biomass and biofuels. Companies that specialize in these technologies are typically in need of technicians with intimate knowledge of electronics and PLC analysis technology. 

PLC programmers in Canada can expect to make anywhere from $20 to $40 an hour, with annual salaries ranging from $40,000 to $100,000 a year. Duties may include everything from designing, commissioning and debugging PLCs. Repairing and maintaining systems is also typically a key part of the job. A good command of written skills is also necessary, as many employers will request documentation from their technicians regarding their daily activities. Some jobs may require programmers to also take on client-facing tasks, such as providing reports and participating in meetings. 

Bonus skills may include the ability to lift heavy objects, and the willingness to travel long distances. On that note, a clean driving record may be required, as well as familiarity with different software. Keep in mind that some software may be quite dated, which means the ability to work with both legacy and new software and/or hardware could be an important skill.

Becoming a PLC programmer 

Becoming a PLC programmer starts by gaining the appropriate skills and experience, often through a solid training program which provides students with theoretical and hands-on training in PLCs as well as SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems. 

SCADA systems are used to monitor, mine and analyze data, whether this is at a local level or remotely. Knowledge of both SCADA and PLC systems are imperative. Though robotics training isn’t always required by employers, in today’s age of automation, it is strongly recommended for new electronic technician in-training to seek out knowledge on industrial robots. Even longtime PLC programmers can make use of their existing knowledge to learn about robotics.

PLC programmer training

PLC programming is sometimes taught at the high school level, especially in “technical” schools or institutions. That said, a high school diploma is not usually sufficient when it comes to being competitive in today’s job market. Especially given the advanced state of modern technology and how quickly things are changing, a post-secondary diploma is usually the minimum requirement set out by employers (either a PLC certificate or some other kind of certification) in order to ensure that technicians are well-versed in the latest theories and best-practices. 

Those looking to become a PLC programmer can look to college programs that offer either in-person or remote/distance learning courses. Distance courses and part-time courses are useful for those who may have other day-to-day obligations and are not able to enroll in traditional 9-5 classrooms.

Conclusion

With the right education and experience, a PLC programmer may quickly find a position working in any number of industries. As automation becomes the way of the future, a combination of electromechanical training and robotics education will quickly work to the advantage of any good PLC programmer. Continuous learning is the best way to progress in any field, and with proven skills and a willingness to absorb new knowledge, any PLC programmer will quickly find themselves able to position themselves in the job market as strong candidates.

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