With all that is unfolding in technology from robotics, drones to 5G, new fields of engineering are, at the same time, being carved out — Mechatronic Engineering is one of them!
We’ve asked Aaron, a Deployed Sensors Engineer at Thales, to tell us more about his work in Mechatronic Engineering. He goes through how he landed in the world of underwater robotics, the everyday tasks in his work, and the edge that all high school students have over current engineers.
Keen to know more? Keep reading on!
What is a Mechatronic Engineer?
Steps to Becoming a Mechatronic Engineer
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Mechatronic Engineers
Aaron Di Noia is a Mechatronic Engineer at the French-multinational electrical systems company, Thales. In his specific role of a Deployed Sensors Engineer, he currently leads a Research and Development project working with underwater robotic platforms.
How did you end up in this role?
Aaron first got into the world of underwater robotics, during his internship at Thales.
“As part of my degree, I had to complete two 6-month internships — on my second internship I began working at Thales Australia and I’ve been working there since. At the end of my studies I also needed to complete a thesis,” Aaron first tells us.
“I was able to complete this in collaboration with Thales Australia which enabled me to research a topic with the backing of their technology and technical expertise — something which I wouldn’t normally have access to if I didn’t collaborate with Thales Australia.”
Studies and Experience
Aaron’s studies were all completed at UTS. This is where he studied the five-year Bachelor of Engineering program majoring in Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, finally graduating with a First Class Honours!
It was only after the second of the two 6-month internships (required as part of his degree), that Aaron saw his pathway start to unfold.
He says, “During my thesis, I was introduced to the world of underwater robotics and I’ve been involved in this ever since and have really been enjoying it. It’s helped steer the direction of my career and now I really want to continue pursuing this area of engineering.”
What made you want to work in this industry?
For Aaron, finding his path to Mechatronic Engineering was a mix of going with his gut-feeling and playing toward his strengths and passion.
But Aaron also had a method to “giving it a go” — “For me, I enjoyed playing with Lego in my childhood and I enjoyed being creative and building stuff, so from there I thought, ‘Hmm… I guess that’s sort of Engineering related’. Think about what things you enjoy doing, and then think about what jobs might find that useful.
“I acknowledge sometimes it’s hard to know what skills would be valuable to each job, but it’s a starting point if you’re trying to figure out what to do next after high school. This is the advice I was following that I also gave to my friends in school at the time.”
What is a Mechatronic Engineer?
Mechatronic Engineering is a collection of Electrical, Mechanical, Software and Systems Engineering. Mechatronic Engineers are involved in a diverse range of activities including high level design (looking at the overall system) like creating system diagrams and low level design (the details of the system) like 3D modelling and prototyping.
The broad and interdisciplinary scope of Mechatronics enables you to take your career in almost any direction. You’ll get the sense that Mechatronic graduates are sort of a jack-of-all-trades — they adapt much easier than a pure Electronics or Mechanical Engineer.
Mechatronic Engineers are able to speak the “languages” of many various Engineering disciplines and help communicate a range of information to those people who make the “big decisions”.
Roles and Responsibilities
No two of Aaron’s workdays are the same but, you’ll find that there is often a neat mix of designing, project work, as well as meetings and emails.
“My typical day starts out by responding to emails for about 30 minutes, then I look at my task list and determine which ones I need to work on today. I usually do some technical design work which can range from doing CAD modelling, or selecting electronic components to put onto a PCB (printed circuit board), or drawing software flow charts, or even writing code in Python or C++,” he explains.
“I also usually do some project work which is non-technical like doing project timelines or determine what steps we need to take next in a particular project.”
Project work requires a lot of internal and external teamwork, so Aaron tells us, “Throughout the day there is often much emailing going on between other engineers within and outside my company, and with project managers and stakeholders to give updates on projects. Naturally there’s often meetings (now Zoom meetings) that take place to discuss these things and more”.
Which industries can this career be found in?
You’ll find most Mechatronic Engineers work in the Manufacturing Industry and the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services Industry. In addition, JobOutlook accounts that about 20% of Mechatronic Engineers work in various miscellaneous industries — as much of today’s engineering world is about robotics, programming and other new areas of tech, this is Mechatronic Engineers also work in.
In addition, you often find Mechatronics Engineers work as System Engineers, who can develop the bigger picture of a project and work closely with Project Managers.
What jobs do people sometimes confuse this with?
There are many similarities between Mechatronic Engineers and Mechanical Engineers.
The difference is that Mechatronic Engineering adds the fresh knowledge of computing and electronics to the discipline of Mechanical Engineering. This often means that Mechatronic graduates have a broader range of project opportunities to work in.
Characteristics and Qualities
The top five skills Mechatronic Engineers possess are largely categorised into:
- Technical design
- Engineering and technology
- Computers and electronics
- Administration and management
The emphasis on each knowledge area varies from position to position. For Aaron, there’s a lot of tapping into his engineering and technical design skills.
“I’ve developed skills with the software and programs I use to do my Engineering tasks. Practice makes perfect, and project work will demand from you to produce something using those software and programs that you haven’t done before, and that leads to growth in your skills with those tools,” he says.
“The same goes with design. The more design work you perform the better you get at doing it, at documenting it, at approaching the problem, at dealing with obstacles, and much more.”
Regardless of your position, there is a big focus on communication. “As engineers, we become skilled in the art of communicating technical information to non-technical people,” Aaron explains. “You develop communication skills in being able to have other people understand the ideas that are in your head.”
He makes the important point that communication, especially in engineering positions, takes many forms such as simulations, drawings, prototype demonstrations, graphs and diagrams. It’s not only verbal conversations.
As a Mechatronic Engineer, Aaron also makes sure that everything works on time from supply chains, people’s availability to perform work to the coordination of engineers, trades people, people of authority. “Another non-technical skill would be project management,” he says.
“This can comprise of budgeting, scheduling work so that deadlines can be met despite events like COVID. This is so that problems can be raised and decisions made, and cross-collaboration with other projects or other people to bring about a new competitive advantage in your product.”
Steps to Becoming a Mechatronic Engineer
What should you study?
A Bachelor of Engineering is your best bet as your first step to becoming a Mechatronic Engineer. This ensures that you get accreditation and meet the national and international standards for your discipline.
Choosing a major that involves Mechatronic Engineering is also important, given that Mechatronics is a unique collection of interdisciplinary knowledge.
Here are some universities you may want to consider when applying for a Bachelor of Engineering:
How long does it take to become a Mechatronic Engineer?
If you’ve got a fair bit of interning experience, you can land a Mechatronic Engineering role upon graduation. It’s also normal for you to work in a more junior role before getting a full Engineering position.
There are a number of softwares that Aaron uses in his workday — this is mostly for his technical design work.
“I use Autodesk Inventor CAD software (though I learnt Solidworks at university) for modelling physical items, Altium Designer for PCB designs & Git for software version control,” he says.
“I also use a lot of Visio, PowerPoint and MS Paint to create block diagrams, visual aids, project roadmaps — anything really where I need custom graphics to help communicate my message across to my audience. Lately I’ve also been using Atlassian products like Jira and Confluence for task management and documentation.”
What will this career look like in the future?
The future is bright when it comes to Mechatronics, as Aaron highlights.
“I believe the future of the industry is developing faster than what I can imagine and forecast. If you look at the rate at which technology has developed, it’s only the past few years that AI technology has started to take off, maybe 20 years since the wide use of the internet, and go back a few hundred years and cars didn’t even exist yet.
“So technology is bringing in game-changing ideas at shorter and shorter intervals. Now companies are dabbling with autonomous and drone technology, and 5G is coming in as the new norm. It’s becoming quicker and more accessible to develop technology and so the next 5 to 10 years can really change how this world looks,” Aaron says.
How in-demand is this career?
There is moderate-to-high demand for each of four disciplines involved in Mechatronic Engineering, however the demand for Mechatronic Engineering requires a more complex explanation.
“Typically, the [engineering] industry has each of these 4 streams separated and well-established so it can look difficult for a Mechatronics Engineer to slot in somewhere appropriate. Acknowledging that the average Software Engineer would write better code than the average Mechatronics Engineer, it’s a decision that the Project Manager needs to factor in,” Aaron says.
“Mechatronics Engineers bring flexibility and versatility to a project in being able to wear many hats as opposed to hiring 4 different Engineers to do the same job. To touch the point on career development once more — the greater the exposure an Engineer has to tasks and variety of projects, the greater the number and variety of opportunities that they come across.“
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
Shortly put, Aaron says,”Yes absolutely! Since Mechatronics is a collection of Electrical, Mechanical, Software and Systems Engineering, it means a Mechatronics Engineer could pursue any one of these streams in more depth or mix and match. Naturally this then means there’s many doors of opportunity available; sometimes too many doors to choose from!”
Mechatronic Engineers are essentially the glue in engineering projects. “However typically projects have limited resources and funding to maximise profit, and often projects struggle to grab, say a Software Engineer, to write code for a few weeks during the project due to tight budgeting or lack of available Software Engineers at the time.
“So Mechatronics Engineers who are already working on that project have enough skills to fill the gap — in essence Mechatronic Engineers bring versatility to a project.”
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$95,000+||Moderate over the next 5 years||High skill|
Digitalisation and robotics are paving new opportunities for Mechatronic Engineers. In addition, the focus on STEM in Australia is accelerating the development of technological innovations.
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
Aaron says, “I really enjoy being able to design and express my creativity in the language of Maths and Science. Currently I’m the Lead Engineer on a small research and development project, so I get to create the vision for the project and directly steer how it develops.
“I also do work at a lower level of Engineering where I write code, do CAD modelling and create PCB designs. So I enjoy being able to switch between the high and low level tasks.”
What do you enjoy least about this job?
“I don’t enjoy dealing with what we call ‘Requirements Analysis’ — requirements are the things which determine what a product should do or look like. So, if we’re building a submarine some requirements might be that it shall not weigh more than 10 tonnes and it should be able to communicate when underwater.
“Requirements are important because they ensure we build what the customer is after, however, I don’t enjoy the analysis part of this because often it involves lengthy conversations about whether requirements have been met, and can sometimes lead to restrictions on the design which can really impact how the design has already progressed,” he shares.
Advice for Aspiring Mechanical Engineers
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
“People should consider Mechatronics Engineering if they enjoy being able to design and enjoy science & technology — there is more to Engineering than Maths & Science. Whilst important and needed to obtain a degree in Mechatronics Engineering, in the workplace there are many roles which a Mechatronics Engineer may perform which do not directly require the skills of Math and Science, but rather an understanding of them.
“Mechatronics Engineers are in high demand now and in the future as they play a critical role in the continuing development of technology. For me in the Defence sector, Mechatronics Engineers who are highly sought after are skilled in robotics and AI. The Defence sector recognises that the people of today are not the right people to be solving tomorrow’s problems — it is those of you reading this article that are needed,” Aaron highlights.
Why should people consider taking on this career?
“The people of yesterday and today have gone through their career without the internet, so they’ve learnt to solve problems without the internet either — just ask your parents or grandparents how to drive to someplace new and they’ll start giving you directions and street names.
“You on the other hand have never lived a day without the internet, so you’ve learnt to solve problems using the internet like it’s second nature — you wouldn’t give it a second thought and just use Google Maps, you haven’t a clue what street you’re driving on most of the time.
“It’s this very exposure to the internet from childhood that gives you an edge that no one else in history has ever possessed. And it’s this edge that our world needs to develop the next generation of technology — we are unable to do it, only you can. So dream big ideas! We’re here to help you achieve them, not stop you,” explains Aaron.
“In my role, yes it’s been very flexible with working from home or the nature of my hours. Especially with the current COVID situation, my workplace has actually instructed all it’s staff to work from home.
“Otherwise pre-COVID, I had the flexibility of working at home on short notice, and flexibility with when I wanted to do my hours in the day — I normally do 8am to 4pm just to beat the traffic.
“With that said, flexibility to work from home also depends on what your current tasks look like. If you’re doing lots of testing or prototype assembly then you can understand how that’ll be difficult to perform at home when all the fancy equipment is at work. If you’re doing more design work then that can quite easily be done from home,” says Aaron.
What is the workplace culture like?
“I’d say the workplace culture can vary between companies as culture really depends upon people. You can get a broad range of personalities with interests outside of engineering — some of my colleagues are people who love going to the gym, some who are pursuing professional sport careers alongside their engineering career, some who love to tinker and invent, some who love to read books on the weekend…
“When you bring a group of people like that together in an office or a project, you’ve got an invitation to have some great fun with a diverse group of people,” Aaron concludes.
Lynn Chen is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is a Communication student at UTS with a major in Creative Writing. Lynn’s articles have been published in Vertigo, The Comma, and Shut Up and Go. In her spare time, she also writes poetry.