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Where Have All the Manufacturing Engineers Gone?

As the industry keeps changing the roles of the Manufacturing Engineer and as the manufacturing facilities export their manufacturing offshore, what happens to the function and viability of the knowledge of the Manufacturing Engineer?

Manufacturing Engineers are the firefighters of the manufacturing process. As once stated to me, Design Engineering is a profession whereas manufacturing engineering is a job. Although disappointed at the time, I now look back and wonder about the truth in that statement. The design engineers were involved up front from the conception of the product to the prototype builds, including all the documentation drawings and initial tools. Then the product information was thrown over the wall and manufacturing was provided with a schedule to build quantities upon quantities of these items. Who was going to write the process documentation for this product? Who was going to make sure the correct equipment was used? Who was going to go over the documentation to make sure the total process was in place to manufacture the quantities needed within the defined timeframe? Who was going to lay out the process flow through manufacturing to make sure no bottlenecks existed? These were the functions of the manufacturing engineers who are now disappearing through reassignment, retirements, and reduction in workforce.

The backgrounds of the manufacturing engineers were varied, from an educational perspective, but three disciplines were pretty common: Mechanical Engineers, Electrical Engineers and Industrial Engineers. These three disciplines were morphed into Process Engineers, Component Engineers, Quality Engineers, Test Engineers and so on.

As the outsourcing process continued and the overall manufacturing cost was cut, these functions began to disappear. This did not mean the functions of the job went away, it just meant that the job was going to be done by someone else. Since Manufacturing engineering is not a glamorous job, the new people were not quite ready to give their all in making sure everything on the manufacturing floor was working smoothly, as they had more important things to do, such as design new products, update the existing products, etc., etc..

Today when you visit a smaller manufacturer or a subcontractor and talk to the design team, they miss the value that the manufacturing engineer brought to the table. There was an innate tribal knowledge that was lost during this outsourcing process and it has to be brought back twofold, one to the subcontractor so they can effectively and efficiently produce the product, and one to the customer to properly communicate what has to be done to make their products in an efficient and reliable manner.

Just my thoughts…..

Leo Lambert
Vice President, Technical Director at EPTAC