Online Automation Engineering Degree Program Overview

Degree programs in automation engineering are available on the undergraduate and graduate levels, but are primarily offered on-campus. However, online master's degree programs in related fields like mechanical or systems engineering are available.

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Essential Information

Because automation engineering requires hands-on instruction, especially in the use of high-tech equipment, online programs in this field are rare. In a campus-based automation engineering program, students learn to repair, troubleshoot and maintain automated equipment used in areas such as industrial electronics, process control and electromechanical systems. These programs can lead to associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees.

Alternative Degree Options

While automation engineering is not typically offered through distance education, there are online programs in related engineering disciplines. Most are at the master's degree level and require prior engineering experience or education. Engineering students seeking an online program can pursue the following degrees online:

  • Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in controls
  • Master of Systems Engineering
  • Master of Integrated Manufacturing Systems with a concentration in mechatronics

Associate's Degree in Automation Engineering Overview

Associate's degree programs are available as an Associate of Science in Automation Engineering Technology or as an Associate of Science in Automated Systems with a concentration in mechatronics. These programs are typically campus-based. Major areas of study include theoretical and practical instruction in the integration of mechanical, electrical, fluid power and computer technologies to control automated equipment. These programs are intended to provide a foundation in all aspects of automation engineering, establishing a path for future specialization.

Program Information and Requirements

Applicants are required to possess a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Some courses can be taken online through a distance-learning content management system such as Blackboard. However, because the complete curriculum for an associate's degree in automation engineering generally requires students to participate in a classroom or laboratory environment, fully online programs are extremely rare. Students also have the opportunity to gain work experience with an approved employer in an area related to a student's learning program.

Common Courses

Students examine the theories and technologies used in automated engineering and manufacturing. They learn the roles and responsibilities of the members of a manufacturing team.

Introduction to Automated Manufacturing Course

In this course, students are introduced to the computer-based technologies that are used in the field of automated manufacturing. Topics include computer-aided design (CAD), computer numerical control (CNC), programmable logic controllers (PLC), and computer integrated manufacturing (CIM). Students also receive instruction in the programming of industrial robots.

Programmable Logic Controllers Course

This course covers the installation, operation and programming of industrial programmable controllers (PLCs). Students review the types and components of PLC systems and receive practical instruction in their use in an industrial control environment.

Industrial Computer Technology Course

Students explore the use of computers in automated engineering and manufacturing. They will be tasked to develop a technical presentation through the use of word processing, spreadsheet and graphical applications.

Career Information for Graduates

Graduates with an associate's degree are generally qualified for entry-level positions such as an associate mechanical engineer or junior automation engineer. In May 2011, PayScale.com reported that the annual salary of a junior automation engineer with less than four years of experience ranged from $34,392-$59,618.


Bachelor's Degree in Automation Engineering Overview

Bachelor's degree programs allow students to build on their knowledge of automation engineering by exploring one or more specialized areas of study, such as mechatronics, process planning and manufacturing methods. Most of these programs are campus-based and combine textbook assignments and classroom discussions with laboratory projects and field work.

Program Information and Requirements

Some institutions require bachelor's candidates to complete prerequisite coursework in computer-aided design (CAD), programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and introductory automation engineering. Emphasis is placed on the application of engineering principles in practice.

Common Courses

Bachelor's degree program students examine the application of accepted engineering practices in automation engineering conditions. They gain advanced knowledge of the philosophies and theories that guide how automation engineering is applied in a manufacturing environment.

Manufacturing Operations Management Course

In this course, students examine best practices in the management of an industrial manufacturing operation. They explore techniques in managing material, finances and personnel and how these resources are combined to create machine-automated products for internal and external customers.

Heating System Fundamentals Course

Students learn the basic concepts of applied commercial building and industrial facility heating systems. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the operation of steam and hydronic boilers, pumps, warm-air furnace units and fans and blowers. Topics of discussion include types of heating systems and identification of system components.

Manufacturing Analysis Course

This course provides an overview of the organizational and functional requirements necessary for the production machine-automated products. Areas of study include specification analysis, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing and the roles and responsibilities of each member of a production team. Students are tasked with writing an assembly production plan.

Career Information for Graduates

Bachelor's degree program graduates are generally equipped to attain positions qualified for entry-level positions such as automation design engineer, process control technician and building automation systems application engineer. Annual salaries for automation engineers with approximately 1-4 years of experience ranged from $44,064-$72,589 in May of 2011, as reported by PayScale.com.


Master's Degree in Automation Engineering Overview

Master's degree programs in automation engineering are available as a Master of Science in Engineering Automation or a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in automation. Graduate programs provide advanced theoretical and practical knowledge in the areas of automated engineering systems and manufacturing platforms. These programs are generally delivered on-campus.

Program Information and Requirements

Applicants typically must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Some institutions may require students to have work experience in machine or engineering automation. Most programs require either a thesis or a field practicum in order to satisfy the master's degree curriculum.

Common Courses

Master's students examine current issues in automation engineering. They perform research and apply specialized skills in areas including thermodynamics, supply chain and machine dynamics.

Design Analysis of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) Course

In this course, students examine the design and mechanical properties of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Topics of discussion include mechanical properties, microfabrication techniques and system issues.

Mechatronics Course

This course provides an overview of mechatronics, which is defined as the combination of mechanical and control engineering, electronics and computers into a single design process. Topics of discussion include mechatronic system design, analog and digital control electronics and real-time programming for control.

CAD/CAM Principles Course

Students apply their skills in computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) in a factory/manufacturing environment. Major areas of study include surface and solid modeling, data exchange standards and advanced modeling tools.

Career Information for Graduates

Graduates of a master's degree program are generally qualified for senior-level positions such as project manager or senior automation engineer. PayScale.com reported in May 2011 that the annual pay for a senior automation engineer with 1-4 years of experience averaged $35,000-$99,157.


Online Degree Programs Related to Automation Engineering

Though online degree programs strictly in automation engineering are rare, students who are interested in the field can find online engineering programs that cover many of the same subjects found in the curriculum of a campus-based degree program in automation engineering. These programs are typically at the master's level, and may have titles such as Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in controls, Master of Systems Engineering or Master of Integrated Manufacturing Systems with a concentration in mechatronics.

Online Program Information and Requirements

These programs can be offered fully online or as hybrid programs, combining online coursework with requirements to attend a lab or other courses on campus. Some programs may require that proctoring of exams be done on campus, while other may make arrangements for remote proctoring to better accommodate the distance education student. An online master's degree program generally takes 33-45 credits to complete, depending on the program.

Typical requirements to take distance education classes include access to a computer that has a Web browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, that will support HTML 3.0 or a more current version and plug-ins such as Adobe Reader, Flash Player and QuickTime. Students may access courses through a Web-based course management tool such as Blackboard. Programs may require students to log in regularly, even daily, to check their e-mail and the chat room discussions, upload assignment and take quizzes.

Common Online Courses

Online courses related to automation engineering often include mechatronics, computerization and robotics. Some of these courses may have labs associated with them. In some programs, the labs can be conducted entirely online.

Computer Control of Machines and Processes

Digital computer control theory, and how it applies to industrial processes and machines, is studied in this course. Students also study how sequential logic, computer hardware and software programs apply to control theory and design.

Advanced Automation and Robotics

Students in this course use mathematical modeling and simulations to understand how robotic manipulation is used in automation. The course covers topics such as machine vision, dynamic controls and how to program robots to work in manufacturing and assembly operations. Prerequisites include knowledge of linear algebra and advanced programming.

Automatic Controls

This course introduces students to the theory and design of single input, single output (SISO) closed loop controls. The course includes analysis of different aspects of this type of design, as well as implementation.

Career Information for Graduates

According to PayScale.com, in May of 2011 workers with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree earned an average annual salary of approximately $53,323-$89,995. Senior mechanical engineers averaged $62,721-$135,500 and mechanical design engineers made $58,958-$71,216.

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