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Robotics Engineers and Technicians

The Job

The majority of robotics engineers and technicians work within the field of computer-integrated manufacturing or programmable automation. Using computer science technology, engineers design and develop robots and other automated equipment, including computer software used to program robots.

The title robotics engineer may be used to refer to any engineer who works primarily with robots. In many cases, these engineers may have been trained as mechanical, electronic, computer, or manufacturing engineers. A small, but growing, number of engineers trained specially in robotics are graduating from colleges and universities with robotics engineering or closely related degrees. 

Robotics engineers have a thorough understanding of robotic systems and equipment and know the different technologies available to create robots for specific applications. They have a strong foundation in computer systems and how computers are linked to robots. They also have an understanding of manufacturing production requirements and how robots can best be used in automated systems to achieve cost efficiency, productivity, and quality. Robotics engineers may analyze and evaluate a manufacturer's operating system to determine whether robots can be used efficiently instead of other automated equipment or humans.

Many other types of engineers are also involved in the design, development, fabrication, programming, and operation of robots. Following are brief descriptions of these types of engineers and how they relate to robotics.

Electrical and electronics engineers research, design, and develop the electrical systems used in robots and the power supply, if it is electrical. These engineers may specialize in areas such as integrated circuit theory, lasers, electronic sensors, optical components, and energy power systems. 

Mechanical engineers are involved in the design, fabrication, and operation of the mechanical systems of a robot. These engineers need a strong working knowledge of mechanical components such as gripper mechanisms, bearings, gears, chains, belts, and actuators. Some robots are controlled by pneumatic or mechanical power supplies, and these engineers need to be specialists in designing these systems. Mechanical engineers also select the material used to make robots. They test robots once they are constructed. 

Computer engineers design the computer systems that are used to program robots. Sometimes these systems are built into a robot and other times they are a part of separate equipment that is used to control robots. Some computer engineers also write computer programs.

Industrial engineers are specialists in manufacturing operations. They determine the physical layout of a factory to best utilize production equipment. They may determine the placement of robotic equipment. They are also responsible for safety rules and practices and for ensuring that robotic equipment is used properly.

CAD/CAM engineers (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) are experts in automated production processes. They design and supervise manufacturing systems that utilize robots and other automated equipment.

Manufacturing engineers manage the entire production process. They may evaluate production operations to determine whether robots can be used in an assembly line and make recommendations on purchasing robotic equipment. Some manufacturing engineers design robots. Other engineers specialize in a specific area of robotics, such as artificial intelligence, vision systems, and sensor systems. These specialists are developing robots with "brains" that are similar to those of humans.

Robotics technicians assist in all phases of robotics engineering. They install, repair, and maintain finished robots. Others help design and develop new kinds of robotics equipment. Technicians who install, repair, and maintain robots and robotic equipment need knowledge of electronics, electrical circuitry, mechanics, pneumatics, hydraulics, and computer programming. They use hand and power tools, testing instruments, manuals, schematic diagrams, and blueprints.

Before installing new equipment, technicians review the work order and instructional information; verify that the intended site in the factory is correctly supplied with the necessary electrical wires, switches, circuit breakers, and other parts; position and secure the robot in place, sometimes using a crane or other large tools and equipment; and attach various cables and hoses, such as those that connect a hydraulic power unit with the robot. After making sure that the equipment is operational, technicians program the robot for specified tasks, using their knowledge of its programming language. They may write the detailed instructions that program robots or reprogram a robot when changes are needed.

Once robots are in place and functioning, they may develop problems. Technicians then test components and locate faulty parts. When the problem is found, they may replace or recalibrate parts. Sometimes they suggest changes in circuitry or programming, or may install different end-of-arm tools on robots to allow machines to perform new functions. They may train robotics operators in how to operate robots and related equipment and help establish in-house basic maintenance and repair programs at new installations.

Companies that only have a few robots don't always hire their own robotics technicians. Instead they use robot field technicians who work for a robotic manufacturer. These technicians travel to manufacturing sites and other locations where robots are used to repair and service robots and robotic equipment.

Technicians involved with the design and development of new robotic devices are sometimes referred to as robotics design technicians. As part of a design team, they work closely with robotics engineers. The robotics design job starts as the engineers analyze the tasks and settings to be assigned and decide what kind of robotics system will best serve the necessary functions. Technicians involved with robot assembly, sometimes referred to as robot assemblers, commonly specialize in one aspect of robot assembly. Materials handling technicians receive requests for components or materials, then locate and deliver them to the technicians doing the actual assembly or those performing tests on these materials or components. Mechanical assembly technicians put together components and subsystems and install them in the robot. Electrical assembly technicians do the same work as mechanical assembly technicians but specialize in electrical components such as circuit boards and automatic switching devices. Finally, some technicians test the finished assemblies to make sure the robot conforms to the original specifications.

Other kinds of robotics technicians include robot operators, who operate robots in specialized settings, and robotics trainers, who train other employees in the installation, use, and maintenance of robots.

Robotics technicians may also be referred to as electromechanical technicians, manufacturing technicians, robot mechanics, robotics repairmen, robot service technicians, and installation robotics technicians.

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