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The job of a controls designer is to engineer and plan the interfaces for electronic devices. These workers are sometimes known as "electronic drafters" or "control engineers." Designers are responsible for developing the controls for a wide range of machinery, including factory equipment and different types of vehicles. A controls designer is required for many applications where a user must interact with an electrically-powered device.
There is no set educational requirement for a controls designer. Many workers in this field have a four-year bachelor's degree in an engineering field, such as electrical design engineering. Others have an associate's degree in electronics drafting, and gain additional training on the job. Regardless of educational background, a controls designer must be able to think logically to develop interfaces that are both simple and intuitive.
A controls designer often has significant flexibility in choosing a design, and can customize an interface to meet user requirements. Despite this flexibility, they are usually required to follow basic guidelines set by governmental safety groups, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) in the United States These design principles help ensure that important controls are laid out in predicable ways. On an industrial control, for instance, emergency stop buttons must be clearly labeled and status lights must be in the same physical layout as their counterpart valves or motors. Well planned controls help users avoid mistakes and react properly in an emergency.
Often, these designers use diagrams and schematics to plan an interface before it is built. This process can begin while a new product is still being developed. Designers talk with other engineers to determine the necessary functions and operations of a device. Preliminary control designs are sometimes created using computer-aided drafting (CAD). This approach allows specialists to visualize and manipulate the controls of a product in a virtual space, and make quick changes to the layout.
Some projects require a controls designer to create a physical mock-up of the proposed design. Engineers may temporarily wire switches and other controls in the same configuration as the planned product, in order to test the interface. Designers simulate many different functions of a product and look for problems with the control designs, such as confusing layouts or improperly positioned buttons.
Once an electrical interface is satisfactory, a designer oversees the final manufacturing process of the controls. Designers must make sure that the proper types of switches, buttons, and displays are used. Engineers also help troubleshoot equipment if a malfunction occurs, and constantly look for better and safer ways of interfacing with electronic devices.
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