Autobots, roll out!

‘Transformers’ isn’t in the job description, but automation engineers design machines that are invaluable in taking over long processes and harmful procedures.

WITH a job title like “automation engineer”, Iriz Iziad Abdullah is no stranger to misunderstandings over what his work actually entails.

“My friends think I go to work and build Transformers,” jokes the 27-year-old, “but I’m afraid my job isn’t as glamorous as that.”

Currently working at MakiTech Corporation Sdn Bhd, Iriz explains that he tends to deal with more down-to-earth types of robots.

“Basically, automation engineers develop, programme and maintain automated machinery and systems.

“The company I work for supplies machinery that are commonly used in manufacturing, like conveyor systems at factory assembly lines.

“My job is to assemble, simulate and test these equipment, as well as customising a robot’s functions for specific tasks.

“So no Autobots and Decepticons, just regular machines,” he says.

While automation engineers may deal with more mundane creations than those from Hollywood blockbusters, they play crucial roles in our industrialised age.

Aside from making workplace procedures more efficient and reliable, automation can also help minimise harm.

“The whole point of automation is to minimise human intervention in a particular procedure through the use of a mechanical or electronic device.

“This can mean letting robots deal with potentially dangerous situations such as handling hazardous waste or taking over manufacturing procedures,” says Iriz.

Initially wanting to be a pilot, Iriz shares that he fell into his current line of work by chance.

“My mother was quite wary about my ambition to be a pilot, because she didn’t want me to have the same sort of lifestyle my dad had in his career as an Air Force pilot, being constantly on the go.

“Plus, I didn’t quite make the grades required.

“Since I’ve been fascinated by robots since I was a child, I decided to take up mechanical engineering,” he says.

After completing a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, Iriz went on to earn his degree in industrial automation and robotics.

My job involves...

... programming, designing and troubleshooting automated machinery. I also work with contractors and companies to see how they need their instruments to function.

My morning starts with ...

My daily routine depends on whether I’m working on site or not.

For on-site assignments, the first thing I have to do is handle the transportation of the machines, such as making sure that they are packed properly. Then comes the setting up process, which can be anywhere between a few hours to days.

One of the machines I worked on was a 4.5-ton affair, and it took two weeks just to assemble it and programme its functions.

Then I have to test the machinery to see whether it’s working accurately, deal with clients to see what they sort of functions they need, and do more testing to ensure the robots fit the clients’ needs.

If I am at the office, I will usually be carrying out testing on the robots and machinery stocked in our warehouse.

To qualify, you need ...

... some sort of engineering background – a lot of people in the field have degrees in mechanical or electrical engineering.

You also need to have a good grasp of computer programming as you will be working with computers to programme processes and troubleshoot equipment problems.

For example, to make a robot perform a certain task, you would usually need to use a programming code that is a bit like the way web designers use HTML to build websites.

That said, most of the learning happens on the job; working on site taught me a lot more than my classes.

Any course that gives you a solid foundation in things like robotics, physics, mathematics and programming will enable you to work in this field.

The best person for the job ...

... is someone who is highly motivated and is willing to learn. It’s definitely not a job for slackers, because you need to pay attention to detail and be thorough with your work. Otherwise, the robot will not function properly – in the worst-case scenario, this may not only cause losses or damage in a factory, but it may even result in harm to workers there.

Since you also have to liase with clients to determine how they need their equipment to work, communication skills are also important.

And of course, you need to be comfortable with working with computers and technology.

I love my job because ...

... I like the satisfaction of seeing a machine work exactly as I want it to.

Sometimes, it can be a frustrating process because it may take hours to get a robot to function properly, but I get an adrenaline rush from finally getting it done right.

What I dislike most ...

… is the travelling and long hours involved – I’ve been at work up to 2am.

This is especially so when you’re working on site projects, because you need to meet deadlines and make sure everything is running smoothly by then.

Regardless of whatever problems that may crop up, you need to get it done — otherwise it can affect an entire company’s work schedule.

Prospects for the future ...

... are very good. Factories in any industry will need machines for processing and assembly work, from the automotive industry to manufacturing to packaging.

As the country pushes towards more development and industrialisation, there is a definite need for more professionals in this field.

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