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What is Controls Engineering?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Controls engineering is a multifaceted profession that involves the design and construction of dynamic machines and systems. Engineers make use of mathematical functions and models to determine how matter, mechanical energy, and electricity flow through a particular device. They propose new designs to increase efficiency and output. Most controls engineering professionals specialize in a certain type of system, such as automobile engines, pressurized water pipes, electronics, or equipment at chemical plants.

A controls engineer thoroughly researches the physical properties of a piece of machinery or equipment. He or she calculates the energy input and output, and tracks the flow of energy throughout the system. By forming new equations and fitting variables into established mathematical models, an engineer can create a detailed statistical representation of the dynamic system. The controls engineer adjusts variables and experiments with different numbers to determine how to maximize output and limit the energy lost due to heat, friction, or chemical reactions.

Controls engineering is an important aspect of nearly every industry. Manufacturing plants rely on skilled controls engineers to improve the efficiency of a wide range of products, including light bulbs, computers, televisions, and machinery of all types. Professionals often specialize in designing more powerful engines for automobiles and industrial equipment. In addition, chemical plant engineers are usually familiar with controls engineering principles, and use them to develop more resourceful ways to produce or use chemical energy.

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The aerospace industry relies heavily on controls engineering experts. Engineers help to design safe and stable airplanes, helicopters, spacecrafts, and satellites. A professional might specialize in designing a more powerful rocket propulsion system or a more efficient propeller system on a helicopter. Using their mathematical systems, controls engineers can design initial plans and blueprints for other engineering experts to follow. Aerospace controls engineers are often consulted during the construction, testing, and implementing phases of a project to analyze the effectiveness of their designs.

An individual who wants to get started in controls engineering can enroll in a four-year program at an accredited university. Few schools offer bachelor's degrees specifically in controls engineering, but a student can become familiar the basics of mathematical design and dynamic systems in a mechanical, electrical, or chemical engineering program. A master's degree is usually necessary to learn the detailed aspects of the discipline and find worthwhile employment opportunities. Graduates can typically find entry-level jobs in chemical plants, research and development firms, government institutions, and private corporations. With time and experience, a successful controls engineer is usually awarded with the chance to work independently on research projects.

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