Do you like to build things, seek out innovative solutions, oversee teams and design efficient work processes? Do you want to know that your work is improving people's lives or solving real-world problems? If so, pursuing a career as a manufacturing engineer may be the perfect fit for you and your lifestyle.
You may be asking yourself, Is becoming a manufacturing engineer a good career choice? The answer is a definitive yes. The life of a manufacturing engineer is full of interesting and engaging work, research and development, quality assurance and working closely with teams of talented workers who rely on the manufacturing engineer to help them troubleshoot and solve problems as they arise.
What Is An Engineer?
To understand what a manufacturing engineer does, you must first have an understanding of the field of engineering in general. Engineering is an applied science, meaning that engineers apply scientific concepts to solve problems creatively, ideally using existing systems and materials in new and innovative ways.
Engineering is a vast field with dozens of specialties, and engineers work in almost every sector of the workforce. All engineers have certain general tenets in common. No matter what division of engineering they choose to specialize in, all engineers troubleshoot and solve problems. Some invent new products, materials and processes while others work to innovate existing products or operations.
What makes an engineer different from other designers is that each engineer typically works on one particular part of a larger project. Think of it as a puzzle. An engineer's goal is to be as specialized as possible, representing one small piece of the larger puzzle. One might only work on designing heat syncs or capacitors, while another works to design sidewalks or roads. Ultimately, each works as part of a team that integrates their ideas daily to complete the puzzle of building a computer or creating a socially engineered downtown pedestrian area.
Process is critical, and each part of the process, like a cog in a wheel, must work in sync to accomplish a larger goal.
Though there are hundreds of specializations in the engineering world, each specialty falls into one of seven sectors, which we'll describe briefly and in broad terms here:
- Chemical: Chemical engineers create and design processes related to various areas of technology and manufacturing. This involves the production, transformation and transportation of various chemicals, raw materials and energy. Branches of chemical engineering include agriculture, biology and biosystems including pharmaceuticals, textiles, materials and synthetics, environmental conservation and renewable energy, food production, plastics and forestry.
- Civil: Civil engineers work on infrastructure in both the private and public sectors, including roads and tunnels, buildings and construction, dams and bridges and water resource management. It is one of the oldest and best-known sectors of engineering.
- Electrical: One of the newer branches of engineering, electrical engineers work primarily in the technology of electricity, from tiny microchips to large power generators. Electrical engineers work in communications, computer technology, electromechanical systems, electricity infrastructure, electronic systems and software.
- Engineering management: As the name suggests, engineering management is the application of management practices to the field of engineering. This branch of engineering marries the problem solving and troubleshooting abilities of any good engineer with the organizational, administrative and planning expertise of a good manager to oversee complex engineering systems. Engineering managers work in industrial and manufacturing sectors, in the production of goods and the integration and unification of various other fields of engineering. A manufacturing engineer is a type of engineering manager.
- Engineering science: Engineering science is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates engineering with natural and physical sciences. Engineering science includes integration with chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics.
- Geotechnical: While technically a branch of civil engineering, geotechnical engineering is itself a broad field that applies civil engineering principles to soil and rocks. Geotechnical engineers work in mining fields, exploring and extracting oil and gas and minerals. They also work in geological fields designing dams and other infrastructure and in metallurgical fields extracting and refining metals.
- Mechanical: Mechanical engineering is the application of engineering principles to the design, construction and use of mechanical equipment. Mechanical engineers work in the aerospace, automotive, biomedical and naval fields.
Engineering is a broad profession with many areas of specialization. But once you choose to become a manufacturing engineer, you can begin learning the skills you need to start a great career based on your valuable and in-demand know-how.
What Is a Manufacturing Engineer?
A manufacturing engineer is essentially a project manager. Manufacturing engineering falls under the umbrella of engineering management, meaning the role of manufacturing engineers goes beyond simply creating systems and products — they must also have interpersonal and strong communication skills. Manufacturing engineers, also called materials engineers, turn raw materials into new or updated products by creating efficient and economical systems and oversee the teams of people involved in product manufacturing.
They also design product forms, often in plastics and metals, using computer-aided design (CAD) technology. CAD uses computers to create, modify, analyze and optimize designs. CAD allows engineers to create a virtual representation of a finished product. Engineers use CAD to create simulated 3D models to the exact measurements and with the proposed materials of the finished design and test their designs in virtual space before handing them off to another member of the team who will create a prototype based on the design. With the advent of 3D printing, sometimes the model can simply be printed once it is tested in CAD.
Manufacturing engineers often work with printed circuit boards (PCBs). CAD is also used in the development and design of PCBs. PCBs are the guts of virtually all electronics and are fundamental to electronics manufacturing. They are found in both consumer and industrial electronic devices.
PCBs have a multitude of applications, including in medical devices, LED lighting systems, communication devices and computers, aerospace components, military applications and many others.
Manufacturing engineers must understand different types of PCBs, including surface mounting and through-hole mounting, and the benefits and applications of each process. To do this, the engineer must understand what inputs and outputs are necessary for what they are building, as inputs and outputs are the foundations of PCB technology.
What Should a Manufacturing Engineer Know?
Besides knowing the principles of engineering and how systems work, a manufacturing engineer should have skills in the following four areas:
- Specialization: Manufacturing engineers, like all engineers, should choose a particular area of specialization and should strive to be the best in their area. This allows them to become an expert in their given specialty. This is also what sets an engineer apart from other developers. The more specialized individuals are on a design team, the more efficient their development processes will be.
- Coding: In the modern world of computer technologies, all manufacturing engineers benefit from knowing the basics of computer coding. Nowadays, knowledge of basic software engineering principles is practically a requirement in any manufacturing workplace.
- Communication skills: Many people seeking to become engineers don't realize the importance of interpersonal skills in creating an effective and efficient workspace. Since manufacturing engineers work as part of a production unit and oversee teams of technicians, having strong communications skills is a must.
- Teamwork: Working as a team is vitally important in the design and implementation of manufacturing systems. Manufacturing engineers must both work well as members of a team and as managers to ensure their own teams are working together and addressing problems promptly.
Mastering these four areas will allow you to become an effective and highly employable manufacturing engineer.
Most employers require a bachelor's degree in engineering plus on-the-job experience, which can be gained by participating in internships or working as a manufacturing technician. Prior experience as a technician may also help you understand the hands-on processes involved in working in this field.
What Does a Manufacturing Engineer Do?
As the name suggests, manufacturing engineers oversee the processes involved in manufacturing a designated product. This includes overseeing a team of manufacturing engineering technicians and working with management to address aspects of the manufacturing process, including quality assurance, timeline and budget.
Let's take a closer look at some of the jobs with which manufacturing engineers are tasked:
- Product development: Manufacturing engineers are vital to the process of product development because they keep projects on schedule and on budget and keep lines of communication open between management, the design engineers and manufacturing technicians.
- Production design: When it comes to product design, engineers know the methodologies, materials and processes that will work best in the manufacturing of a specific product. And if they don't know, they'll troubleshoot and use their network and resources until they find the best solution.
- System integration: Manufacturing engineers know the fundamentals of various systems and how to effectively integrate computing, design, manufacturing, quality control and management into the product manufacturing process.
- Team management: It is essential that manufacturing engineers know how to work well as part of a team. They themselves must work with management, designer engineers and customer service to provide updates and troubleshoot problems. They must also manage teams of technicians who rely on them for guidance. A certain level of trust must be maintained so that any issues are brought to their attention promptly.
- Quality assurance: Once a product is released, the manufacturing engineer will then work to ensure that the product's quality is maintained. This requires working closely with customer service professionals within the company. When complaints or product bugs are exposed, it is the job of the engineer to recreate the problem and troubleshoot a solution.
- Problem-solving: Problem-solving is a vital skill for any engineer, and is particularly important throughout the manufacturing process. Any issues that arise within product development and production fall on the shoulders of the engineer to resolve.
Manufacturing engineers must also understand certain concepts, such as how the types of materials used within the product will impact the product's price. One of the goals of a manufacturing engineer is to increase production, also called output, while maintaining quality and keeping costs down. They must understand the production budget and timeline and how to manage these factors to keep the project running smoothly — on time and on budget.
The Typical Day of a Manufacturing Engineer
Every day is busy and engaging for manufacturing engineers. A typical day starts out like any other job — checking messages and emails to put out any figurative fires that might have arisen during the evening or weekend shifts since most manufacturing processes don't stop when the clock hits 5 p.m.
Manufacturing engineers then touch base with their technicians to make sure they have all the resources they need to complete their functions. They will also calculate efficiency to ensure that products are being made at the right speed to stay on time.
They also work with design engineers to interpret drawings and blueprints so they can pass that information on to their technicians, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Manufacturing engineers will attend meetings with management to keep them updated on how the project is progressing.
Manufacturing engineers must be persistent. When a problem arises, they must have the curiosity and troubleshooting skills to solve the issue. They must also be ready to reach out to suppliers and other engineers to ask questions and fill in any gaps in their own knowledge, which is where communication and management skills come in handy.
Where Can a Manufacturing Engineer Work?
The job opportunities for in-house manufacturing engineers are practically endless. Virtually any company that has in-house product manufacturing and development needs manufacturing engineers. These range from multinational corporations to smaller private companies that work in aerospace, defense, technology and software development, robotics and assembly line automation, food and drink and pharmaceuticals.
Typical workplaces for manufacturing engineers include offices, manufacturing facilities or research and development labs.
Why Becoming a Manufacturing Engineer Is a Great Career Choice
There are many benefits to working as a manufacturing engineer. Because it is such a valuable and sought-after skill set, finding employment with a company whose work interests you and who values align with your own is easy.
Depending on the type of work you do, you may get to join a team working in product development, allowing you to have a hand in design and making your career a potential alleyway into a creative space.
Most manufacturing engineering jobs are flexible and comfortable. You will be working set weekly hours for a high paycheck. Though be ready to put in extra hours when necessary to ensure projects are completed on time.
Also, manufacturing engineers are paid well for their expertise. The average annual salary for a manufacturing engineer is in the range of $77,000. Entry level positions may start out earning less, but experienced manufacturing engineers can make more than $100,000 per year. Engineering positions often come with good perks and benefits, such as retirement matching, health insurance and paid time off.
All of these factors make a career in manufacturing engineering a good choice.
Consider a Career as a Manufacturing Engineer With EMSG
To learn more about your future career as a manufacturing engineer or to discuss career options, contact EMSG today, and be sure to look at our Careers page to learn more about job opportunities in Pennsylvania and beyond.