What Is a PLC Programmer? (With Skills and Qualifications)
Updated 20 March 2023
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Most industries require specialists for designing and programming components that constitute manufacturing processes and assembly lines. PLC programmers fulfil such requirements with their extensive application-oriented knowledge of programmable logic controllers. This is an ideal job role for problem-solvers and logical thinkers. In this article, we discuss what a PLC programmer is, what duties and responsibilities they have and what skills and qualifications they need to excel in this career.
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What is a PLC?
A PLC, or a programmable logic controller, is a computational device that is essential for industrial automation processes involved in production and manufacturing environments. PLCs can be used to repeat or automate entire assembly lines, including machines, robotic devices and specific processes.
PLCs are rugged, versatile components that can be retrofitted to any production environment with ease. They receive inputs from devices like sensors and process the information to deliver outputs that satisfy pre-defined parameters. PLCs also monitor and interpret data to start, stop, speed up or slow down processes, as and when required. For example, a PLC might monitor temperature readings from an industrial device and automatically shut it down when the temperature crosses a prescribed level.
What is a PLC programmer's job role?
The expertise of PLC programmers is required in a variety of systems, ranging from power generation plants and steam boilers to laundry services and baggage control mechanisms. Although programmers in this field may choose to specialise within different domains, some of their core responsibilities tend to remain the same. These responsibilities include:
Visiting locations to assess client requirements
PLC programmers visit a variety of production and manufacturing environments to understand the specific needs of their clients. Following this, they may advise clients or make suggestions regarding the procurement of technology and tools. They may also provide cost estimations and tentative timelines for the completion of a project.
Drawing schematic diagrams
Schematic diagrams represent how different components of a system work together to achieve the desired output. It is a technical drawing that gives an overview of the working of any system, be it mechanical, electrical or hybrid. PLC programmers are required to design, create, read and interpret diagrams in various contexts and production environments. A logic flow diagram is one example of such a diagram that PLC programmers use frequently.
Writing and documenting programs
After conceptualising and designing processes using diagrams, PLC programmers combine their knowledge of automation software and programming languages to write executable programs. They may also document the development process, the intent of the project and create a manual of instructions to ensure the safety of users. Popular automation components include Schneider Electric PLC, Mitsubishi PLC, Allen Bradley PLC and Omron PLC. Popular programming languages for PLCs include Sequential Function Chart, Structured Text, Ladder Diagram and Instruction List.
PLC programmers define the criteria under which systems and their components are tested. Testing methodologies are designed to ensure safety and reliability in future system operations. Programmers may be responsible for testing their own systems as well as systems developed by third parties.
After a program has been developed and tested, it has to be fully integrated with the physical mechanisms on which it will work. PLC programmers execute or oversee the installation of programs. They may also guide and support other technicians and company staff and train them to operate the program or machinery safely and efficiently.
Providing technical support
Beyond installation, PLC programmers may also be expected to extend their services toward continued technical support and maintenance of systems. They may do this in a written format by updating instruction and operation manuals or verbally by talking to users and solving issues. They perform a range of troubleshooting activities to diagnose and address issues related to PLCs and their usage.
What skills and qualifications do PLC programmers need?
The expertise and knowledge of a PLC programmer lies at the intersection of software development, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. They may require good analytical skills and a problem-solving mentality to succeed in their role. Employers may also look for the following skills and qualifications in a PLC programmer:
These are some skills you may consider developing if you want to be a PLC programmer:
Technical knowledge: Although academic qualifications like a degree or diploma may indicate your technical knowledge of a subject, employers may give preference to your knowledge of engineering in the context of real-world application. PLC programmers should have an in-depth understanding of software engineering principles as well as knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering practices.
Design skills: Design skills are crucial for developing concepts and methodologies that are useful for creating new processes. PLC programmers use their knowledge of program architecture and combine it with their ability to design processes using blueprints and 3D models.
Mechanical expertise: As a PLC programmer, you need to be involved in the physical assembly of systems and machines. Having mechanical expertise to perform installations in the field can be beneficial.
Critical thinking and logical reasoning: PLC programmers often need to think critically and logically in order to find effective solutions to problems. They should also ideally have a good understanding of mathematical concepts and programming logic to implement these solutions.
Problem-solving skills: PLC programmers may work around problem statements for projects. It is important that they consider all aspects of a problem statement to identify potential issues and eliminate them before they can occur.
Attention to detail: Industrial workflows are complex and have several components that work in sync. Professionals who program these systems require a great deal of attention to minor details and specifications.
Related: Hard Skills: Definition and Examples
These are some of the educational qualifications you may consider pursuing if you want to be a PLC programmer:
Higher secondary education: To become a PLC programmer, you first have to complete your 10 + 2, ideally with subjects like physics, mathematics and computer science. You may require 50% aggregate marks in your 10 + 2 board examination to gain admission into technical undergraduate courses.
Bachelor's degree: Although not compulsory, an undergraduate degree or diploma can greatly improve your job prospects in this line of work. Popular courses include a BTech (Bachelor of Technology), BE (Bachelor of Engineering) or a diploma in a related field, such as electrical engineering, instrumentation, electronics and communication engineering, mechatronics or computer science engineering.
Advanced diploma: NIELIT, or the National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology, offers a 16-week Advanced Diploma course in PLC/SCADA/DCS engineering. Engineers, diploma holders and candidates with an MSc (Master of Science) in industrial electronics or instrumentation are eligible to apply for this course.
Certifications: You may also consider getting certifications, like an Advanced PLC Program Professional certification from IPCS (Ingenious Power and Control Systems) Automation Private Limited. This certification provides a verifiable record of your skills and expertise to potential employers and is an internationally recognised certification that allows you to work in other countries as a PLC programmer.
Related: How To Share Your Education Background
Is PLC programming a good career?
A career in PLC programming comes at a relatively low academic cost. It is not compulsory to have formal degrees, as long as you can procure some relevant work experience and certifications. PLC programming is also a profession that has demand due to its requirement in a large number of manufacturing and industrial environments.
Travel may be a regular part of a PLC programmer's work, and they tend to get involved in a wide variety of work environments over the course of their careers. For those who like to travel and have diverse professional experiences, this is an ideal line of work. Additionally, this domain offers immense scope for specialisation, and programmers often identify specific industries in which they are interested.
Related: The Career Planning Process: Practical Steps
What is the average salary of a PLC programmer?
The average base salary for a PLC programmer is ₹2,61,200 per year. Depending on your expertise, specialisation and work experience, this figure can go much higher. Where you work can also affect your salary in this field.
Related careers for PLC programmers
These are some careers similar to that of a PLC programmer:
Electrical engineer: Electrical engineers undertake the responsibility of testing, developing and designing electrical devices and equipment such as navigation systems, motors, power generators and communication systems, as well as automotive and aviation electrical systems. They are also in charge of overseeing the production of various gadgets, systems and equipment.
Mechanical engineer: Mechanical engineers work in a wide variety of industrial environments to design mechanical devices like escalators, elevators, generators, converters, refrigerators, turbines and engines. They are well-versed in computer-aided design tools and often work in tandem with teams of designers.
Systems engineer: The work of a systems engineer lies at the intersection of engineering and management. They study the life cycle of systems and determine areas for improvement to increase efficiency.
Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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