Electrical and Electronics Engineers - What They Do
Electrical and electronics engineers design, plan, research, evaluate and test electrical and electronic equipment and systems. They are employed by electrical utilities, communications companies, manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment, consulting firms, and by a wide range of manufacturing, processing and transportation industries and government.
This group performs some or all of the following duties:
- Conduct research into the feasibility, design, operation and performance of electrical generation and distribution networks, electrical machinery and components and electronic communications, instrumentation and control systems, equipment, and components
- Prepare material cost and timing estimates, reports and design specifications for electrical and electronic systems and equipment
- Design electrical and electronic circuits, components, systems and equipment
- Conduct micro or nanodevices simulations, characterization, process modeling and integration in the development of new electronic devices and products
- Supervise and inspect the installation, modification, testing and operation of electrical and electronic systems and equipment
- Develop maintenance and operating standards for electrical and electronic systems and equipment
- Investigate electrical or electronic failures
- Prepare contract documents and evaluate tenders for construction or maintenance
- Supervise technicians, technologists, programmers, analysts and other engineers.
- Electrical and electronics engineers may specialize in a number of areas including electrical design for residential, commercial or industrial installations, electrical power generation and transmission, and instrumentation and control systems.
- avionics engineer
- control systems engineer
- design engineer, electrical
- electrical distribution planning engineer
- electrical engineer
- planning engineer, electrical systems
- electronics engineer
- instrumentation and control engineer
- electrical network engineer
- electrical process control engineer
- roadway lighting design engineer
- television systems engineer
- test engineer, electronics
This is what you typically need for the job:
- A bachelor's degree in electrical or electronics engineering or in an appropriate related engineering discipline is required.
- A master's or doctoral degree in a related engineering discipline may be required.
- Licensing by a provincial or territorial association of professional engineers is required to approve engineering drawings and reports and to practise as a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.).
- Engineers are eligible for registration following graduation from an accredited educational program, and after three or four years of supervised work experience in engineering and passing a professional practice examination.
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is offered by the Canada Green Building Council and may be required by some employers.
- Read e-mail messages from colleagues and co-workers about projects they are working on together. (1)
- Review notes on work orders for details of current projects. (2)
- Review the installation instructions and warnings on electrical and electronic product labels. (2)
- Read short letters and memos from clients and managers. For example, they may read letters from clients outlining the expectations and requirements for new projects or memos from their managers explaining policy changes. (2)
- Read operating, maintenance and repair information for electrical and electronic components in technical manuals. They review these manuals for information about the installation and repair of equipment such as transformers, lasers, lights, programmable logic controllers, data acquisition systems, barcode readers, security systems and network servers. (3)
- Read articles in publications such as professional newsletters and journals, vendor publications and industry magazines to keep abreast of latest trends, problems and issues affecting electrical engineering. (3)
- Select relevant information from various codes and legislation such as the Canadian Electrical Code, provincial building codes and city bylaws when developing and evaluating electrical specifications and plans. They have to be very familiar with these documents when searching for specific information. (4)
- Read lengthy technical reports on topics such as reliability, usability, protection coordination and power demand studies. They evaluate the usefulness of the information and when appropriate, integrate study findings into their current electrical projects. These reports include lengthy descriptions and explanations supported by complex drawings, graphs and lists. Understanding these reports requires a prerequisite knowledge base in electrical engineering. (4)
- Review the text of legal contracts and agreements written by their organizations to see that they are complete and worded unambiguously. They read legal contracts written by other organizations to understand any implications for their own work. For example, electrical engineers may read agreements between land owners' associations and power utilities to determine the requirements for power distribution system designs. Any significant interpretation error can cause significant monetary loss for both the client and the engineering firm. (5)
- Read and interpret complex texts such as the International Standards Organization's Standards for Electrical Engineering which describes engineering standards for topics such as electrical power stations, electrical wires and cables, components for electrical equipment switchgear and control gear, rotating machinery and transformers and reactors. The Standards are detailed, highly technical and lengthy. (5)
- Consult organizational, professional, supplier and business directories to locate the contact information of colleagues, co-workers, partners, sales representatives, contractors, clients and technical support personnel. (1)
- Check that all electrical equipment is labelled with the monogram certification marks of agencies such as the Electrotechnical Laboratory, the Canadian Standards Association or Warner-Hu. (1)
- Scan lists and tables for specific information. For example, they search tables for electrical product specifications or review lists of technical specifications to find the price of electrical power from different sources. (2)
- Enter names, addresses, dates, codes and prices into routine forms such as invoices, time and travel logs, personal calendars and project update forms. (2)
- Consult flowcharts and schematics to gather conceptual information about industrial and manufacturing processes. For example, they may study flowcharts to determine material flows and control points in chemical processing plants when planning the placement of sensors for data acquisition systems. (3)
- Verify the accuracy of material schedules for complex construction, manufacturing, power generation or telecommunications projects. These documents display the quantities and prices of materials needed for a project. They are used to control the inventory of materials purchased for projects and to prepare client invoices. (3)
- Review and approve the scale drawings of proposed power, communication, electrical and manufacturing systems before sending them for approval or implementation. Approved plans may be sent to architects, mechanical engineers, inspection authorities, clients or electrical contractors for approval, integration with other systems and implementation. The scale of these drawings ranges from millions of transistors on a small wafer of silicon to power distribution systems which span whole provinces. (4)
- Scan electrical and electronic schematics to identify devices in circuits, understand how circuits operate and locate information such as voltages, polarities and component values. For example, electrical engineers may scan schematic diagrams of distributed control systems in manufacturing plants when planning modifications. The schematics show how the thousands of sensors and control elements are connected to central control system boards. The electrical and electronic schematics are often selected and viewed in relation to other documents such as manufacturing process flow charts or scale drawings of the plants. (4)
- Use the information from documents found in lengthy technical reports and specification documents when evaluating, planning and improving electrical and electronic systems. These documents include complex tables, schedules, graphs, scale drawings, assembly drawings and schematics that detail and describe electrical, communication, manufacturing and processing systems. For example, engineers may select and analyze the most relevant information from tables with pictures, lists and characteristics of equipment and many pages of electrical schematics in order to analyze the results of reliability studies of electrical power systems and determine the need for corrective actions. (5)
- Write short e-mail messages to assistants, colleagues and co-workers outlining tasks that need to be done, confirming work plans and providing explanations such as time log entries or billing forms. (1)
- Write routine letters. For example, they write letters to product suppliers explaining procedures for adding products to product specification lists, to contractors explaining contracting procedures and to clients describing their companies' engineering services. (2)
- Write short reports to provide timely information to clients, colleagues and managers. They write project status reports describing progress made, difficulties encountered and potential solutions being explored. For example, they write brief analysis reports for power distribution utilities, analyzing electrical power failures, describing the causes and recommending actions to prevent future outages. (3)
- May write requests for proposals to invite proposals from potential contractors and suppliers. They often use standard templates to write sections which explain project backgrounds, product specifications, deliverables, timelines, selection criteria and financing. (3)
- Write persuasive proposals providing detailed technical information about products and services offered, available options, ability to do the work required and cost estimates. The length of the proposals usually reflects the size of the potential contracts and some proposals involve extensive writing. (4)
- Write longer reports to provide expert analyses and recommendations to clients, management and colleagues about electrical and electronic systems. They provide relevant data, analyses and justifications to support their recommendations for multi-million dollar projects. They adapt the reports' content to match the perspectives of the readers and change the writing style to suit these non-technical readers. (4)
- May write articles for publication in international, peer-reviewed journals. The articles follow scientific writing standards and present information about abstract and theoretical subjects. For example, electrical and electronics engineers may write articles on 'leading edge' thinking about control system technologies. (5)
- Calculate expense claims. For example, they multiply the travel distances in kilometres by fixed rates per kilometre, add other allowable costs and total the claim amounts for reimbursement. (2)
- Verify electrical contractors' invoices and approve them for payment according to schedules and rates specified in contracts. (3)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
- Monitor expenditures against budgets to identify under and over expenditures. (1)
- Monitor quarterly expenditures of several electrical engineering projects occurring simultaneously. Project budgets may range from one to ten million dollars. (4)
- Prepare appropriation requests for capital electrical engineering projects up to ten million dollars. The requests include budgets for all human resources, materials and equipment costs, timelines and work schedules, spending forecasts per financial quarter and cost benefit analyses. (5)
Measurement and Calculation Math
- Calculate the dimensions of buildings, equipment and components from scale drawings. For example, they may check architectural drawings to make sure rooms are large enough to accommodate electrical and electronic equipment. (2)
- Set up, configure, calibrate and use specialized measuring equipment. For example, they may use vision systems to take precise measurements of moving equipment or oscilloscopes to measure voltages and frequencies in electrical circuits. (3)
- Use advanced mathematics such as trigonometry and calculus to plot or describe waveforms as part of circuit design processes. (4)
- Use a wide variety of electrical and electronic formulae. For example, they may calculate the inductance of coils in millihenries using an equation which relates inductance to coil radius, and length and the number of turns of wire in the coil. (4)
- Use advanced mathematical methods, including modelling, to analyze complex electrical or electronic systems. For example, they may calculate the power required to meet the forecasted demand in given regions and determine the quantities and types of equipment required to produce it, or they may calculate the optimal flow of robotic function between equipment, machinery, conveyors and people to enhance production in rubber tire plants. (5)
Data Analysis Math
- Describe complex electrical and electronic systems statistically to analyze the effects of system or environmental changes. For example, they may analyze pulp production data to find out when pulp mills started and stopped making pulp to determine if the stoppages are insurable claims. The data are presented as complex graphs which indicate trends in chip meter speed and the number of cooked wood chips produced. (3)
- Analyze data to monitor industrial processes. For example, they may compare the speeds of equipment to desired standards to decide if motors need to run faster or they may conduct protection coordination studies to describe the performance of circuit breakers in industrial facilities. (4)
- Estimate life spans, maintenance periods and the reliability of equipment and systems. For example they predict the length of time electrical power, communication, control and information technology systems will be out of service based on previous experience and analysis of equipment reliability documents. (3)
- May estimate the demand placed on power grids, computer networks and phone systems. They analyze past trends and factor in other variables such as the introduction of new service to plan budgets for manufacturing processes and power generation projects worth several million dollars. (1)
- Interact with co-workers, colleagues and suppliers to gather information, access subject matter expertise, brainstorm solutions, coordinate work and receive feedback on recommendations. For example, they may speak with electrical technologists and technicians about aspects of project implementation or interact with suppliers to find about the electrical equipment available for projects. (2)
- Participate in group discussions. For example, at the end of projects they meet engineering team members to share experiences, review successes, plan for the future and note areas for improvement. (2)
- Interact with clients to identify needs and to sell products, services or engineering solutions. Electrical and electronics engineers must ask the right questions and listen carefully to ensure that proposed solutions meet clients' needs. (3)
- Make presentations to clients, colleagues and managers. For example, they make presentations to small client groups outlining proposed solutions to technical needs; to other engineers and professionals with whom they work to brief them on technical matters; and to management to justify investments in proposed projects. Presentations vary in length from fifteen minutes to several hours and include visual presentations, handouts and question and answer periods. (3)
- May participate in national and international committees which develop and update standards. They may sit on standards committees organized by the Standards Council of Canada, the National Fire Protection Association, the Canadian Standards Association and the Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada. (4)
- Encounter capacity problems in power, communications and information technology systems. For example, they may find that the capacities of electrical substations are exceeded because the demand for electricity is too high. They collect data to identify immediate solutions such as moving power lines to neighbouring substations to meet the demand. (2)
- Face construction delays and complications due to poor or inadequate planning. For example, electrical engineers in some contexts may find that units of street lighting systems cannot be installed as designed because their bases would be on top of underground sewer lines. They relocate the base units to avoid the sewer lines and change the positioning and aim of the lights to achieve the desired light intensity. They note the changes on construction drawings. The ability to quickly solve small construction problems is important to keep jobs on time and on budget. (2)
- Have difficulty meeting project deadlines when unforeseen circumstances arise. When technical difficulties or insufficient resources delay projects, they consult with co-workers and colleagues to reassess project goals and discuss their options. They may reduce the scopes of projects or renegotiate new deadlines with clients so that all planned activities can be completed. (2)
- Discover errors in plans created by colleagues. For example, they may find that architectural floor plans for electrical and equipment rooms are too small to accommodate the required equipment. They consult with architects to ask them to rework the space. If additional space is not available, they may adapt space available elsewhere in the buildings. (3)
- Have clients who do not accept their advice. For example, they may find that clients want to use inferior products to save money instead of the products they have recommended. They talk with the clients and point out why the recommended products are the only permissible options. Electrical and electronic engineers are guided by a code of ethics which must be followed at all times. (3)
- Find that new equipment malfunctions. They may find that new industrial process equipment worth several million dollars does not work after being installed correctly. They check manuals to confirm that the equipment is set up properly and consult with colleagues, experts, help-line operators and equipment manufacturers to find the sources of faults. They conduct tests and engineering studies. They may also develop unique solutions to get the equipment working. (4)
- Find that industrial operations and processes do not run well. For example, electrical engineers in food processing plants may discover that steam pressure readings in processing equipment are fluctuating inappropriately. The engineers work with instrument mechanics and plant operators to determine if pressure relief valve control systems are causing the problems or whether the plant steam loads are swinging. When the causes of the problems have been identified, the electrical engineers develop solutions to correct the fluctuations or reduce the effects. (4)
- Decide not to authorize work which would be unsafe or environmentally damaging. For example, electrical engineers may insist that lighting be installed in parking lots for safety reasons even though clients do not support the added expense. (2)
- Decide to temporarily stop projects when expenditures exceed organizational limits. For example, they may decide to halt projects and consult with top management to discuss causes, options and recommended actions when cost overruns exceed fifteen percent. (2)
- Make decisions about equipment adjustment, repair and replacement. For example, electrical engineers in pulp and paper plants may decide to use variable speed drives to improve the pulp production process when the existing control valves wear out. They base their decisions on cost and reliability analyses for all replacement and repair options. Selecting the wrong equipment can reduce pulp production or cause injuries to production personnel. (3)
- Decide which electrical codes, standards and guidelines apply when designing electrical systems for construction, manufacturing, processing and electrical generation projects. They consider the type, function and location of the projects to determine the guidelines that must be followed. Failing to follow required codes can result in unsafe electrical systems, work that has to be redone and the loss of the credibility for engineers and their organizations. (3)
- Decide what equipment to buy or recommend for purchase for short-term or long-term projects. They follow established procedures and selection guidelines for equipment, considering costs and past experiences with similar equipment and similar installations. Selecting inappropriate equipment can result in safety concerns, lost productivity and financial loss for the clients' and the engineers' organizations. Decisions can only be reversed at significant cost, especially for larger equipment. (3)
- Judge the validity and accuracy of contractors' claims for payment. They check to see if the claims are justified and, when the work itemized on claims seems beyond the terms of agreements, recommend that contractors' statements of work should be adjusted. (2)
- Judge the suitability of equipment and systems. For example, they may evaluate suitability of programmable logic controllers when implementing new processes. They review the specifications for existing controllers in relation to the sequences of operations, temperatures and flows required for their particular applications. (3)
- Evaluate the adequacy of intricate architectural and mechanical engineering plans which specify the planned interfaces between their respective systems. They use their specialized knowledge of electrical and electronic systems, experience and understanding of architecture and mechanical engineering to make the assessments. Errors in analysis can negatively affect projects, relationships with clients and the reputations of consulting firms and engineers. (3)
- Evaluate the efficiency and ergonomics of manufacturing processes. For example, electrical and electronics engineers may assess the best way to design tire manufacturing processes. They assess how to get products in and out of the processes and how to arrange the work flow of robots moving tires through tight spaces. They consider tire flow, tracking requirements, safety, ergonomics of how operators interface with the machinery and the familiarity of maintenance staff with equipment. They must balance the need for operational efficiencies against safety concerns. Risks of poor judgement may include injuries, loss of production and increased costs to the companies as well as loss of credibility of the electrical and electronics engineers. (4)
- Evaluate the reasonableness of clients' requests. They consider the need for the work, the feasibility of the work in terms of time and budget and the degree to which they think the work will satisfy clients' needs. They gather data by talking to clients, reviewing records and taking measurements. Electrical and electronics engineers usually lead the process of gathering data and developing consensus. Poor evaluation results in unsatisfactory projects and rejected proposals. (4)
- Evaluate the completeness of electrical and electronic designs. For example, they approve and sign electrical and electronics schematics to indicate they will work and that they meet all required standards before they are forwarded to others for implementation. The schematics are complex illustrations of each of the proposed electrical systems. They include many features that must be checked for adherence to relevant codes such as the Canadian Electrical Code and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Recommended Practices. Low quality, unsafe or unacceptable designs present risks and incur continuing costs until they are fixed. (4)
Job Task Planning and Organizing
Own Job Planning and Organizing
Electrical and electronics engineers set their own priorities and plan their daily work activities within the framework of project schedules and deadlines. They need to manage time effectively if they are to produce high quality work on time and within approved budgets. Their work is often interrupted by unpredictable factors such as last minute client changes and requests, equipment breakdowns and work delays caused by underestimation of project complexity, communication errors and many other factors that may interfere with expected results. They must be adept at revising schedules and priorities. They may log their consulting in fifteen minute segments to charge clients appropriately and to identify personal efficiency problems.
Planning and Organizing for Others
Electrical and electronics engineers are responsible for planning the human resources, job tasks, schedules and budgets for projects that vary in length from several months to several years. Some electrical and electronics engineers are also involved in strategic planning for their organizations.
Significant Use of Memory
- Remember conversion factors between the SI and the Imperial Systems to facilitate calculation.
- Remember key parts of the Electrical Code and regulatory policies to have quick access to relevant information when needed.
- Remember circuit designs to use in other projects of the same nature.
- Remember mathematical formulae for common calculations.
- Remember the names of clients, details of their projects and the names and positions of contact people to ensure continuity and to establish good relationships with clients.
- Remember historical and anecdotal information. For example, an electrical engineer may remember why certain circuits or components were used in particular locations or how seasonal variations affect ground conditions when designing power distribution routes.
- Remember the characteristics of products and systems. For example, an electronics engineer may remember the design specifications and parameters of particular circuits, lasers and fibres used in research labs.
- Use the Internet and organizational intranets to locate information. For example, they use the Internet to locate electrical product supplier websites for performance and price data. They access the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website for regulatory changes pertaining to electric and magnetic fields. Some engineers access organizational intranets to find documents such as lists of contacts, training sessions offered, regulatory requirements and drawings from previous projects. (2)
- Refer to the regulations and codes such as the Electrical Code of Canada, fire codes, provincial and municipal electrical codes and by-laws. (2)
- Consult reference documents such as electrical engineering textbooks and equipment manuals to obtain information about infrequent tasks such as how to calculate a short circuit or how to determine operating parameters for transformers. (3)
- Ask for advice or guidance from subject matter experts when faced with unfamiliar or complex problems. (3)
- Find solutions to electrical and electronics engineering problems by finding, reading and synthesizing research reports in journals, technical reports and the Internet. They interpret the results and apply relevant findings to develop innovation solutions. (4)
- Use communications software. For example, they communicate with manufacturers, clients, contractors and co-workers by e-mail, exchanging documents and illustrations by attachment. They may schedule regular team meetings and reserve meeting space using organizational e-agenda. (2)
- Use the Internet. For example, they use search engines such as Google to obtain product information. (2)
- Use word processing software. For example, they use standard templates to write memos to co-workers or letters to clients. They use advanced word processing features and functions to produce larger documents such as analysis reports, progress reports and appropriation requests; these documents feature tables of contents, footnotes, appendices and imported graphs, tables and illustrations. (3)
- Use graphics software. For example, they may prepare PowerPoint presentations for proposed solutions to clients. The presentations include tables and graphs and may have embedded objects or links. (3)
- Use databases. For example, they may consult client databases to obtain system characteristics for clients, or they may enter data into pre-defined forms in Access to collect, manage and archive information on electrical power grids, using queries to determine the grid with the highest number of power outages within a period of time. (3)
- Use spreadsheets. For example, use spreadsheet programs such as Excel to search supplier tables for product prices, create lists of clients and automate the calculation of frequently used quantities such as current and voltage. (3)
- Use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, they use financial software to prepare budgets for individual projects, annual budgets and budgets for operational and strategic planning over periods of one, two, three, five and ten years. (3)
- Use computer-assisted design, manufacturing and machining. For example, they use drafting software such as AutoCAD to create two dimensional schematic diagrams of electrical networks or to create schematic drawings for electrical power systems illustrating power lines and substations. (3)
- Do programming and systems and software design. For example, they use Java and hypertext markup languages to develop and maintain websites. They use C++ language to write programs to control and synchronize the operation equipment such as lasers and they may use Visual Basic, which is embedded within Excel to develop network simulations. (4)
Other Essential Skills:
Working with Others
Electrical and electronics engineers perform many tasks independently and coordinate and integrate their work with project teams which include co-workers, colleagues, contractors and consultants. They lead and coordinate the activities of the electrical technicians and technologists who assist them. Electrical and electronics engineers in some contexts work closely with senior management to plan how to achieve corporate goals and interact with stakeholders outside their organizations such as community members, government officials and law firms. They must maintain positive working relationships with all individuals impacting their work. (3)
Electrical and electronics engineers must maintain current knowledge of new developments in their fields. They must also maintain current professional certification. Electrical and electronics engineers generally set their own learning goals and select the appropriate learning methods and sources. A wide range of training opportunities is available and may be supported to some degree by their employers. They learn informally by reading electronic newsletters published by industry associations or vendors, by reading manuals, books and professional journals and by consulting with colleagues and subject matter experts. They attend formal learning opportunities such as vendor product presentations, conferences, workshops and university courses.
Electrical and electronics engineers are granted professional engineer status by provincial engineering associations and some provinces require mandatory participation in professional development to maintain status. Provincial associations establish the required number of professional development hours required. (4)