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What is Manufacturing Engineering?

Students working on a prototype of a new bicycle

What is manufacturing engineering? It is how we make things—efficiently, economically, and effectively.

Almost everything you interact with today is the result of some sort of manufacturing, from the food you had for breakfast to the shoes on your feet to the device you’re reading this on right now! Each is the product of a whole team of designers, engineers, technicians, managers, and marketers. Manufacturing engineers are vital members of these teams. To see what a manufacturing engineer does, let’s look at the journey of a smartphone from idea to mass production.

What to make

Product Design – Here, the design of the smartphone is fleshed out from initial customer needs to CAD models and drawings of assemblies, subsystems, and components. The manufacturing engineer is involved in this process from almost the beginning, pointing out ways the design can be improved to make later fabrication easier, cheaper, and faster. Many serious problems in manufacturability can be identified and corrected here by the manufacturing engineer, before production begins and the cost of such problems multiply.

How to make it

Process and System Design – Once the smartphone is designed, with all of its individual components, the manufacturing engineer takes the lead in designing the processes used to fabricate each part of the product. Experience with a variety of manufacturing processes, including casting, machining, forming, welding, and injection molding, allows the manufacturing engineer to specify the steps and parameters necessary to effectively create quality parts. Supply chains for raw materials and outsourced components are established. The engineer also decides the number of machines and workers needed and plans the factory layout for orderly and efficient production.

Faster, cheaper, better!

Quality Control, Data Analysis, Continuous Improvement, Automation, Project Management – After production begins, the manufacturing engineer continues to measure and analyze the manufacturing system, keeping everything running smoothly and on schedule. The manufacturing engineer also maps out and implements improvements that will reduce lead time and cost while improving quality, using tools like automation and robotics, computer simulations, and information systems. Principle-based philosophies like Lean Manufacturing, Total Quality Management, and Six Sigma empowers the manufacturing engineer in making real, quantifiable improvements to individual processes, product lines and factories, and even entire companies. A manufacturing engineer’s work is never done—after all, next year’s smartphone must be even better!