Are You a New Automation Engineer?

Discover the typical software programs you will likely use, starting your first day. If you think about it, it would it be interesting to know what they use on a daily basis?

What Do The Pros Use?

Have you ever wondered what engineers, designers and technicians considered as must have?

Well I have spoken to a few of my professional friends and asked them what they have on their computers, and here is what they shared.

If you’re a new professional working on an automation project, then you will eventually get to the question of software. In this article I am going to try to decode the mystery of what the pros use.

So why is this important to you, maybe you’re not a pro, yet. Well, if you’re like me you want a glimpse into the future. Because if the pros are using specific software today well then likely when you go pro your going to have to use it as well.

And it would be great to learn how to use it as soon as possible and have it on your resume before you even get the job, right?

We all know that the software in your computer can be one of the most valuable resources you have available to you. To manage projects, communicate effectively, design professionally and document concisely.

Now, because there’s so many different vendors of software and this article couldn’t begin to cover them all.

I will try to break up the software into categories, based on the typical use of the software programs. I will also merge the industries of designer, programmer and integrator because I found many of them used the same programs.

And more importantly, at some time sooner or later you will likely run into and use many of them.

1. Notes:

Evernote is a mobile app designed for note taking, organizing, task lists, and archiving.

The app keeps your notes organized, and your memos are accessible online or offline anywhere, and they are searchable, so you always find what you need.

I found many of my friends used Evernote to store passwords, make reminder notes, store pictures, voice and video recordings and to also store important backup information offline.

In addition, all the information stored on Evernote is synched to their computers and smart phones which requires a digit code to open providing strong security.

You can also easily and securely share your notes and allow multiple people access to your account to share all the information.

2. Backup

Many of those I spoke to use Google Drive to ‘back up’ their documents online.

You should always backup your documents, and the good thing is that Google Drive offers lots of FREE storage, up to 15 gigabytes.

You should always consider cloning your hard drive to ensure you capture everything on your drive.

As we all learn sooner or later, your hard drive will fail. They recommended Acronis for cloning, while there are many, I found that of those I spoke to they either by chance or choice were using Acronis, so that’s why I am sharing this info with you.

3. Document Viewer

With the vast variety of software you will likely need to review, you’re going to have to acquire a viewer program.

For example, you may need to review an Autocad program without having Autocad on your computer. Viewers are software programs that let you view a .dwg file for example without the software that created it.

You may also need to view 3D Solidworks files, but maybe you don’t own Solidworks. Well you can view the files with a copy of eDrawings, a free software program for clients to review design projects.

It’s hard enough to find an error in your code when you’re looking for it; it’s even harder when you’ve assumed your code is error free.

– Steve McConnell

4. Design

You are likely also going to need to do some kind of design work, possibly create some electrical files or maybe even a 3D version of a new product or device.

So, consider a program like Solidworks. You can find many free or much less expensive alternatives for this purpose, like Google’s Sketchup program which many of engineers use for real world projects.

But most engineers I spoke with suggested learning Solidworks as soon as possible, as you’re going to likely use it in the future, it’s the industries premium offer.

Also, they said once you learn it, it will make using all the other programs so much easier.

5. Simulation

Sooner or later you’re going to want to test a design, maybe a prototype of a hydraulics system that your looking to modify.

Or maybe even an electrical system, either way you want to test some specs and mathematics before investing other people’s time and money into an unproven new design.

That’s where simulation software comes in, and when it does, you’re going to need a simulator program like MultiSim or AutomationStudio for those times you need a robust program where you can integrate electrical, programming, hydraulics and pneumatics into your design.

6. Programming

You are also likely going to need a programming language software. To program computers or web sites or robots.

If your trying to level up your career and are curious about what types of languages the pros use you may need to learn Google; Python, or SQL , Java, C++ and PLC Programming’s Ladder Logic or any number of the hundreds of other languages out there, as every automation or visual system needs a programming or design language to create it.

When starting out I suggest that when learning you should pick one platform and build off that. Although, in time you will discover that with advanced programs like Contollogix for example you could find yourself using; structured text, ladder logic, and Visual Basic languages all in one project.

7. Compression

Make no mistake compression of documents will become a nightmare without the right tools.

Rather you use Dropbox, to send large files or you face the challenge of opening .rar files, or must email large files, you will need something like 7 Zip to help you handle them.

7zip, is a free and open-source file archiver, a utility used to place groups of files within compressed containers (files) known as “archives”. These compressed files can be secured with encryption and emailed.

You can compress, audio, video and documents making this a must have for any professional.

8. Project Management

Rather you are new, or a seasoned pro, you’re going to most definitely be creating, working in and or with a project management program.

So’ gaining experience with one or more of them will be worth your while, the pros say.

So, you could start with the FREE GanttPV, you could use it to define tasks, assign resources, and create Gantt charts.

A simple, cross-platform, open source project management program, it’s a collaborative capable web-based software.

Or you could have your employer pay for Microsoft’s Project Office suite or just the one software program. These programs are one of your most important resources to manage an outcome and deliver a result.

9. Virtualization

Hard drive virtualization is a growing  likelyhood and or a necessity in many companies these days.

You may find yourself working with multiple software versions, or portable hard drives or thumb drives with a different OS system. For example; in my work, I found that Siemens plc programming platform and Rockwell’s RSLogix programming platforms didn’t like residing in the same OS.

So, I have loaded each on their own OS before and even tried splitting my hard drive into separate partitions, both of which worked.

But, many pros are using virtualization software like; Virtual Box allows you to run two or more operating systems using only one PC. …

Virtualization software, also called a hypervisor, is what allows one computer or server to host multiple operating systems.

10. Graphics

Everyone from technical writers, to engineers to technicians all will need to edit photos and drawings to communicate important notes.

You could use Adobe Photoshop or Inkspace, view and share your ideas, use handwritten notes and collaborative drawings through an idea’s portal.

GIMP, is for a graphic designer, photographer, illustrator, or scientist, it provides you with sophisticated tools to enhance your productivity with customization options and 3rd party plugins.

Don’t forget to get a PDF creator, and a Mind Mapping program as well like, Mind

11. Email

Email is the life blood of todays world of business. You literally need to become an expert in using it asap.

Because almost from your first day at work you’re going to have to deal with email.

And in some circumstances, you may need to work with multiple email boxes.

Of course, there’s Outlook a must know, helping you stay on top of your inbox or for scheduling the next big thing, email makes it easy to be productive, organized, and connected at home, at work, and everywhere in between.

But as is often done, you may need to work with the company’s email network on a self-hosted solution with some weird third-party email client as most pros experience at one time or another from a company trying to save money.

12. Video

If you’re going to create presentations, make training videos, document progress and or send real time messages your likely going to have to make videos.

So, that means you’re going to need a video editor, you may use Adobe Premium CC, a tier 1 video editing software for film, TV or the web.

Some pros use, Corel or even some lesser known brands like; Lightworks, or ClipChamp. 

Because automation & robotics engineers and technicians are not hired to be video professionals they often default to using their phone.

Many companies try to skimp on this type of software, so be prepared to use almost anything, but bear in mind you WILL make videos.

Closing Thoughts

So, if you’re a new tech, designer or engineer moving into a lateral position in another department, or starting a new job, keep in mind.

That having the right software can mean the difference between performing like a pro with the tech skills to hack into a secret NSA facility or like a newbie getting coffee for others who are doing your work for you because you’re not familiar with the software to get the job done.

Take this list and consider the categories of your needs and then have a look at the programs the pros use and then go download a few of them on a trial or student learning basis and take them for a spin.

Next Steps

If you look at all the software available, you will get overwhelmed and will likely miss some of them, that’s why I organized them into categories for you.

Also think about file size, format and delivery of the software as these will likely be your biggest challenge when installing and starting to use them.

Good luck..