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PLC Programmer Duties and Responsibilities

PLC programmers work on a wide variety of mechanical projects, from boilers at power plants to baggage handling systems and laundry machines. No matter their specialty, PLC programmers share a few core tasks. Based on an analysis of job listings and resumes, these tasks are:

Design Schematics PLC programmers draw schematics that show how electrical components and panels work together to accomplish a process. They also examine existing drawings and double-check them for reliability and manufacturability. A logic flow diagram is an example of one such schematic that PLC programmers must be able to create and interpret.

Write and Document Programs After drafting a diagram of the process, PLC programmers use automation software (such as Omron CX Programmer) and a programming language (such as ladder logic) to write the program. They prepare documentation for the program's intended use as well as safety instructions.

Test Programs Before installation, PLC programmers determine test criteria, then test the new program for reliability and safety with automation equipment. They are also responsible for testing programs and equipment developed by third parties.

Install Programs When the program is ready to be fully integrated with equipment, PLC programmers are there to oversee successful installation. They provide guidance and support to technicians during the installation process, then train them in safe and efficient operation of the program.

Provide Technical Support PLC programmers provide ongoing technical support to users within the company and outside customers, both verbally and by writing or revising operation manuals. Should any problems arise, they troubleshoot the program and create solutions. Fine-tuning the productivity and dependability of their program is an ongoing project.


PLC Programmer Skills and Qualifications

The specialized skill set of PLC programmers lies at the intersection of electrical, mechanical, and some software engineering principles. They have good foresight and strong analytical thinking skills that allow them to troubleshoot and avoid problems. Employers seek candidates who have at least an associate's degree in process controls or a similar technical field. They also look for PLC programmers with two to five years of experience and the following skills:
  • Engineering knowledge - whether they have an associate's or bachelor's degree, PLC programmers have a strong understanding of the electrical, mechanical, and software engineering principles needed to create and maintain automated processes
  • Design skills - when developing a new process, PLC programmers use strong program architecture principles to design it and draft blueprints or 3D drawings
  • Mechanical expertise - when the time comes to physically put the process together, PLC programmers can complete the technical aspects of installation
  • Logical reasoning - aside from using PLC programming languages such as ladder logic, programmers use rational steps and mathematical concepts to design project flows
  • Problem-solving skills - in a project with many parts and a combination of software and electro-mechanical interfaces, things are bound to go wrong. PLC programmers must identify any problem's source and create the best solution

PLC Programmer Salary and Outlook

The role of a PLC programmer is very similar to an electro-mechanical technician as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, workers in this field earn a median annual wage of $56,740. The highest 10 percent earn more than $87,970, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $36,550. The BLS projects that the overall employment of electro-mechanical technicians will grow 4 percent through 2026. This is slower than the 7 percent average for all occupations, possibly due to declines in manufacturing industries. However, there may be comparatively more employment growth for PLC programmers working in energy sectors or chemical processing.

Helpful Resources

For those with a knack for engineering and problem-solving, PLC programming is a potentially lucrative field with relatively low barriers to entry. The following resources will help prepare you for the career:

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology - finding a reputable training program is easy with this nonprofit agency, which is recommended by the BLS and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation as the leading accreditor of engineering programs

International Society for Automation - this 40,000-member organization has been operating since 1945 and is recommended by the BLS as a training and certification provider for control systems technicians

Learn How to Program and Troubleshoot Ladder Logic - this guide to the PLC programming language takes readers through the life cycle of an entire project. As one reviewer describes it, "Anybody wanting to understand ladder logic needs to get this book"

Programmable Logic Controllers - this highly reviewed textbook is a great resource for anyone who already has a solid background in engineering but wants to learn more about PLC programming

Inroduction to PLCs: A Beginner's Guide to Programmable Logic Controllers - author Elvin Pérez Adrover promises that no PLC coding experience is needed to begin this guide, which takes readers from basic concepts to completed projects

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