The PLC Operator
So, first things first… what is a PLC, anyway? And, uh, how do you operate one?
PLC stands for “programmable logic controller.” Think of it as a miniature computer that controls machines. PLCs use sensors to understand what’s going on with the surrounding environment. Then they use that information to tell the machine what to do.
The digital thermostat in your house is a good example. It senses the surrounding temperature and adjusts the heating or cooling system to keep the temperature “just right.”
PLCs do similar jobs in factories. They play an important role in the automation that’s essential to modern-day manufacturing. These PLCs are made extra-rugged for this industrial purpose so they can stand up to their rough surroundings.
As a PLC operator, you’ll be the person who programs the PLC to perform specific tasks. In other words, you tell the PLC what to do… so the PLC can tell the machinery what to do. You’re the boss!
You might find work as a PLC technician in any of these industries:
- Automotive manufacturing (in fact, the auto industry invented the PLC!)
- Food and beverage processing and packaging
- Power plants
- Water treatment plants
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing
- Mining, oil and natural gas
- Paper processing
And that’s just the start of the list. PLC programming is needed in lots of places!
To be a PLC opepator or PLC technician, you’ll need to know a lot about subjects like computer programming, electronics, electrical schematics and circuits, hydraulic systems and automation principles.
As the field grows with new technology, you’ll need to keep learning so you can always be at the top of your game. But think about it – you’ll be at the very front of a cutting-edge field.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PLC OPERATOR IN GEORGIA
As a PLC programmer, you’ll probably find yourself doing many of these tasks from day to day.
- Help factory managers and plant operators figure out the best approach to automating systems
- Install electronic equipment for the manufacturing process
- Write different computer programs to run on PLCs
- Monitor installed PLCs to see how they’re working
- Document the computer programs, run back-ups and make updates
- Troubleshoot problems with operation
- Refer to the technical documentation and schematics
WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A PLC OPERATOR
Top professionals in the trade say you’ll need to be:
- Smart at problem solving. Being a PLC operator is all about figuring out problems and how to solve them — whether you’re designing a program to automate a process, or troubleshooting a device to understand why it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do.
- Tech friendly. You’ll be working with software, devices, circuits, wiring and more. And you’ll also need to follow new developments in the field as automation processes continue to get more advanced.
- A strong communicator. You will need to document programs, describe processes in the factory or plant, report on your testing results and more. So you’ll need to be able to write clearly and effectively.
IS THIS YOU?
Here are a few pros & cons to consider as you decide whether PLC programming is right for you.
- The broad expertise you develop as a PLC operator means you’ll have knowledge in a number of fields. This makes it easier to advance in your career and explore new areas of specialization. Kind of like greater job security.
- The manufacturing industry is growing more automated all the time. Since PLCs (and PLC operators) are super-important to automation, your skills will continue to be useful and relevant. You can always count on finding a good job.
- As a PLC technician, you spend most of your time working indoors, usually in a factory or plant. The environment might include high temperatures, chemical smells or loud noises. So: You’ll have to be alert and cautious even in a distracting atmosphere.
A FEW DETAILS OF INTEREST
How much do you make as a PLC technician?
The average annual salary for a PLC technician the U.S. is about $51,000 (PayScale.com).
How do you become a PLC operator?
To become a PLC operator, you will need basic training in electronics, programming and automation technology. You don’t need a four-year degree, but for many jobs you will probably need an associate’s degree (two years).
You can find two-year PLC training programs at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools and some universities.
You might also get a PLC certificate — a shorter program that could serve as an entry-level credential while you learn on the job.
And if you want to get started right away, there are lots of self-guided PLC programming courses available on the internet for free. If you’re the motivated and ambitious type, you can begin learning about PLC programming on your own, right now!
FIND PLC TRAINING IN GEORGIA
APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
If you’re a high school senior and want to study PLC programming at one of Georgia’s technical colleges, why not apply for a Trade Five Scholarship? OK! Bring on the application >
YOU CAN EVEN START NOW!
For a super-quick intro to PLCs and how they work, check out this short video. Just 90 seconds later, you’ll know more about programmable logic controllers than most people ever will!
LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
Download this handy PDF for some facts on-the-go.