When it comes to a day in the life of a quality engineer (QE), well, there is no typical day.
As might be expected, the job duties vary from company to company. But, also, most QEs need to constantly adapt, prioritize, and troubleshoot throughout the day, multitasking and taking on different duties at the drop of a dime. Or, as one Reddit user puts it: “Main day to day activity by far is putting out fires.”
While each day may shape up a bit differently, there is some consistency in the general duties that a QE performs. Over the course of a day, a QE usually:
- Reviews communications to determine issues and prioritize the day’s work;
- Troubleshoots issues;
- Addresses client and supplier concerns;
- Meticulously documents problems and prepares reports;
- Works on the floor;
- Networks with a diverse group of people in order to find solutions; and
- Develops process changes in order to achieve higher production standards.
But before we take a closer look at exactly how a QE fills their day, let’s define what a QE is.
The Job Description of a Quality Engineer
A QE is responsible for designing, maintaining, and improving production standards at a manufacturing plant or laboratory. To do so, the job duties of a QE usually involve:
- Designing and implementing testing processes to determine the efficiency, reliability, and performance of the product;
- Troubleshooting issues by preparing reports that analyze and summarize collected data;
- Working with clients, other engineers, production floor staff, and suppliers to resolve issues;
- Ensuring that all those involved in production are trained to meet the quality standard; and
- Developing strategic plans that focus on improvements to business processes and production output.
Quality engineers provide a voice for the client at the production facility, ensuring that client requirements are met. Even more paramount, however, is ensuring that all legal demands are satisfied. Particularly in the medical device industry, close attention needs to be paid to regulatory requirements. The calibration of medical devices must be validated in accordance with ISO standards.
The (Un)Typical Day of a Quality Engineer
While most QEs perform the same sorts of tasks regardless where they work, each day tends to unfold differently. One of the main roles of a QE is to troubleshoot issues as they arise, which means that a day’s schedule and priorities may shift quickly. When describing his own day, one quality manager explains:
Errors in the production line and customer issues can pop up at any given moment. In the blink of an eye, they turn my day into an adrenaline-packed challenge. I go into problem-solving mode instantly: I discuss damage control on the phone, shoot out an e-mail to the concerned customer and quickly reschedule meetings – all at the same time!
Keeping in mind that each day might be structured differently, let’s look at what duties a QE typically tackles.
Managing Interpersonal Communications
Quite consistently, QEs report that the first thing they do when they arrive at work is check their email and phone messages. Some might also quickly head into meetings. In either case, they are checking to see if any issues were reported overnight by other engineers, production staff, clients, or suppliers. This allows them to tentatively prioritize their day’s work (assuming nothing unexpected happens during the course of the day).
Communication and people skills are key for QEs. Since QEs provide a voice for clients, they have to balance between supporting clients and collaborating with other engineers, production staff, and suppliers to resolve issues. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a tightrope. In discussing their job, one QE says that: “The toughest part of working in Quality can be convincing people that we’re not out to get them. I see Quality as a supporting function – yes, we sometimes highlight problems, but we’re there to improve things and help people.”
To address an issue, a QE prepares a non-conformance report (NCR). Typically, NCRs follow a very specific format and are meticulous with detail, covering:
- An evaluation of the issue (non-conformance) including how it affects the form, fit, and function of the part or device being manufactured;
- The root cause of the non-conformance, whether:
- A failure to meet regulatory standards;
- A failure to meet quality standards;
- Personnel noncompliance;
- Noncompliance or irregularity on the production floor;
- Cost estimates to help determine a containment action (reworking, scrapping, or accepting the part as is); and
- A plan of action to help prevent similar non-conformance in the future.
In order to complete an NCR and determine a course of action, a QE usually has to collaborate with other engineers or staff on the production floor.
Addressing Client or Supplier Issues
Communicating with clients and suppliers is a key role for QEs. Whether it’s simply a client asking for an update or an issue with a product being delivered by a supplier, it often requires the same type of approach as completing an NCR. Investigating the issue may require meeting with a variety of people, determining a course of action, changing internal processes, and completing detailed reports.
Working on the Floor
Some QEs spend most of their day overseeing production on the floor of the manufacturing plant or in the laboratory. Others spend most of their day at their desk but visit the floor as needed. In any case, QEs should expect to spend at least part of their day overseeing production standards or collaborating with production floor staff.
Developing Process Changes
Troubleshooting non-conformance often leads to process changes in an attempt to prevent similar issues in the future.
However, for many QEs, an important goal isn’t just the maintenance of existing standards but continual improvements to quality processes as a way to take quality standards to a higher level.
In between managing communications, troubleshooting non-conformance, working with clients and suppliers, and spending time on the floor, a QE will need to find time to consider and develop process changes. Part of that development requires that a QE bring together all the people involved, drawing from their expertise and encouraging collaboration between all. Once again, a QE’s people and communication skills are key to effecting the change needed.
There’s no doubt that a QE’s day is filled with multitasking and shifting priorities. And that’s exactly what draws some engineers to the position. As one says: “The thing I love about Quality is that there is no typical day! This job throws all sorts of things at you.” If you have a background in engineering, strong people and communication skills, and the ability to pivot as needed, you might just be a perfect QE.