What is a Manufacturing Engineer?
A Manufacturing Engineer designs and operates the manufacturing systems for a product. They choose the best technologies and processes to manufacture it, plan and design the factory that will produce the product, and manage the running, maintenance, and continuous improvement of the manufacturing process.
They may also be responsible for inventory control, quality management, quality control, material flow, cost analysis, procurement and supply chain management.
Their main goal is to create the stages of a manufacturing system that produce a product in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way possible, while always maintaining staff safety and product quality.
According to the BLS, the median annual wage for industrial/manufacturing engineers was $88,950 in May 2021 with projected job growth of 10% from 2019 to 2029.
What is Manufacturing Engineering?
Manufacturing engineering is the branch of engineering that is concerned with understanding, analyzing and improving complex industrial, manufacturing and infrastructure systems. It focuses on finding and using the equipment needed to turn raw materials such as metal, plastic or wood into a finished (discrete) product in the most efficient way possible.
What Does a Manufacturing Engineer do?
A Manufacturing Engineer is responsible for ensuring that manufacturing is carried out (and the end product is produced) in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way while still maintaining overall product quality.
For a new factory or product, they would figure out the optimal manufacturing process, break out the individual process steps, design and layout the production line, choose the machinery, design, and layout the individual workstations and develop an operational plan to ramp up production.
Within existing manufacturing set-ups, they are more likely to work in the monitoring of equipment and identifying opportunities for improvements to increase productivity while maintaining product quality.
For example, a Manufacturing Engineer might be hired to:
- Automate an engine manufacturing facility through the use of robotics, computer integrated technology, or a flexible manufacturing system (FMS).
- Design a cell phone manufacturing processes to reduce costs and improve product quality.
- Figure out the most optimal layout of machines and equipment for manufacturing cells in discrete parts manufacturing.
- Develop and implement fabrication processes for microprocessors.
- Identify the most cost-effective material handling and facility layout alternative for an aerospace manufacturing company.
- Design the tools or equipment to manufacture a product if none exists.
Check out this video from JobTalk on a “Day in the Life of a Manufacturing Engineer”.
Exact tasks will vary greatly between roles depending on the final product of manufacturing, but examples of tasks include:
- Conceptual design of the manufacturing process.
- Analyze the product and design a method to produce that product efficiently
- Production management including managing of production targets and inventory control
- Continuous improvement and elimination of waste through ongoing analysis and identification of inefficiencies within the system
- General oversight and monitoring of machinery – including project coordination for maintenance, upgrades, and repair when needed
- Working with manufacturing staff to train on new equipment or optimization processes
- Help with troubleshooting of problems within the manufacturing process
- May have budgetary responsibilities
To be a great manufacturing engineer, it is also important to keep up to date with new technologies and improvements in the field.
Manufacturing Engineer Vs. Process Engineer
There seems to be a lot of confusion between Manufacturing Engineers and Process Engineers. In summary:
Manufacturing Engineers (generally) work in Discrete Manufacturing – machines and or assembles (screws, bolts, welds, glues, rivets) individual pieces into a distinct product often on an assembly line. (Think car assembly – Telsa’s production line for its electric cars, furniture manufacturing (think IKEA), shipbuilding, cell phones (iPhones), engine, cell phone, computer, washing machine, TV, airplane, syringe, medical pump, scalpel or pacemaker manufacturing, etc)
In a discrete manufacturing factory, you typically find, assembly lines, U shaped assembly areas, conveyor belts, machine tools, CNC machine centers, CNC lathes, stamping presses and dies, robots, welders, pick and place (SCARA) robots, injection moulding machines, packing machines, air-powered assembly tools, painting and finishing areas, etc.
Process Engineers are “Chemical Engineers” who work in Process or Continuous Manufacturing – takes a formulation or recipe of ingredients and blends them together using a chemical reaction, heat, cold, fermentation, etc continuously or in a batch into a final product which is usually a liquid, powder, gas or solid. (Think turning milk into baby formula, oil refining, gasoline, plastic, shampoo, washing powder, toothpaste, casein, cheese, butter, beer, wine, whiskey, paint, drug or vaccine manufacturing, etc)
In a process manufacturing factory, you typically find, piping, pumps, tanks, flow valves, steam valves, temperature gauges, boilers, vessels, reactor vessels, crackers, distillation columns, heat exchangers, boilers, steam pipes, autoclaves, clarifiers, decanters, fluidised dryers, Program Logic Controllers (PLCs) PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) Controllers, etc,
In summary, if what you are making involves, cutting metal and welding or bolting something together like a washing machine, it’s probably manufacturing engineering. If it needs chemistry like making washing powder, it’s process or chemical engineering.
Manufacturing Engineer Vs. Production Engnieer Vs. Industrial Engineer
For some people, they are broadly synonyms with far more similarities than differences. But for what it’s worth, here is a very high-level take on the differences.
Manufacturing Engineers – more concerned with the initial research design, layout and build of the manufacturing process or system.
Production Engineers and more focused on running the systems and would place more emphasis on meeting production targets, inventory control, operations management, continuous improvement and elimination of waste, quality control, and quality assurance.
Industrial Engineers similar to production engineers but much more emphasis on working with people. They look for ways to make the workers’ routines more efficient to improve production.
What Skills Do I Need?
The skills needed to be an effective Manufacturing Engineer include:
- Analytical Skills – need to be able to identify areas of low efficiency and work to provide improvements
- Lean Manufacturing Skills – must be able to identify and eliminate waste within the system
- QA and QC Skills – such as ISO 9000, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Statistical Process Control, etc
- Communication Skills – will work with manufacturing employees at all levels and need to be able to effectively explain the relevant points of equipment to each. Also needed for successful project management
- Technical Skills – must be able to work with different technology to provide a solution that produces the required result in the most efficient way possible
- Commercial Awareness – must keep the “bigger picture” in mind at all times when considering each step of the manufacturing process
- Problem Solving Skills – have to take a concept of a process and establish the equipment needed to make it happen
- Organisational Abilities – should be able to prioritise tasks, set schedules and work between different projects to achieve overall business goals
Manufacturing Engineer Salaries & Job Growth
Becoming a Manufacturing Engineer
Manufacturing Engineers will typically have a Bachelors’s degree in manufacturing, industrial or production engineering. Others may start with a mechanical engineering degree and move sideways into this role.
Typical coursework focuses on fundamental engineering maths, materials technology, machine systems, reliability and quality, materials technology, mathematical methods, electrical technology, engineering drawing / design, applied engineering, applied computing, engineering design analysis, production technology, electrical & control, fluid power automation, industry studies, thermodynamics, engineering design process, engineering design operations, process control, mechatronics, manufacturing technology, operations management, robotics & materials handling, differential equations, dynamics & control, networks & facility simulation, software engineering, CAE.
Manufacturing Engineers Jobs in Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturing
The majority of roles for manufacturing engineers tend to be in:
- Medical device manufacturing as there is a much broader use of discrete manufacturing
- Engineering consultancies also hire manufacturing production engineers into process optimisation consultancy roles
- Pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing will also have roles but the majority (but not all) tend to be concentrated around fill-finishing and packaging operations (Think running a highly automated packaging line).
Pharmaceutical and Medical Device manufacturing is a regulated industry so most, manufacturing engineers are probably going to need some retraining, especially in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and risk management techniques.
So you would have roughly 2 broad options.
Take our GMP Training for Beginners for the Pharmaceutical Industry and retrain roles in medical device manufacturing.
Retrain for production/manufacturing roles within a GMP-regulated manufacturing environment such as a medical device or pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Take our 18-week online Conversion Course into Engineering Roles in Pharma to learn GMPs and how safe medicines and medical devices are made in a regulated environment. You will also learn the air, water and steam systems that underpin medical device manufacturing.