Manufacturing engineers develop, operate, and manage manufacturing systems that will produce items quickly, cost effectively, and to quality and safety standards. As such, the role encompasses a wide range of duties and responsibilities. Manufacturing engineers work in offices and on plant floors, creating processes and suggesting improvements, analyzing budgets, problem solving, and managing people.
Given the scope of the role, it’s clear that each day on the job will vary. While there isn’t a “typical” day in the life of a manufacturing engineer, people in this role can expect to:
- Provide technical expertise and support related to the manufacturing process;
- Train, supervise, and support other staff, including other engineers, technicians, analysts, and admin staff;
- Work towards continuous improvements and efficiencies in the manufacturing process;
- Identify, evaluate, and assist with the purchase of new machinery or technology;
- Analyze budgets and financial projections;
- Manage relationships with vendors; and
- Develop sustainable manufacturing processes and technologies.
A manufacturing engineer requires knowledge relating to mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineering and also requires strong soft skills in order to manage people and relationships. It’s a complex job that can be stressful at times but if you thrive on challenges, it can be incredibly rewarding.
If you’re interested in becoming a manufacturing engineer, you will need, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in engineering. A general engineering degree, with credits in manufacturing-related courses, is sufficient. However, if you’ve specialized in any of the following fields, you will be able to use your skills and knowledge as a manufacturing engineer as well:
- Chemical engineering;
- Electrical/electronic engineering;
- Production engineering;
- Industrial systems engineering; or
- Mechanical engineering.
Although a master’s degree isn’t required for entry-level positions, it can lead to better job opportunities (including research and development positions and supervisory roles) as well as quicker career advancement.
Certifications and Licensure Requirements
Manufacturing engineers are able to work at many jobs without being licensed or having certifications. However, job opportunities will be considerably better for those who choose to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam as a foundation for their Professional Engineer (PE) licensure and/or who pursue certifications.
Professional Engineer (PE) Licensure
Licensure is required for engineers who work on public projects or as independent consultants. Along with a degree from an accredited engineering program, licensure requires passing the FE exam, working for a minimum of four years under the supervision of a PE, and passing the PE exam.
Given the work requirement, it’s clearly impossible for a new graduate to obtain licensure before starting their first job. However, it’s a good idea to take the FE exam during your senior year of studies or shortly after graduating. The exam is difficult and comprehensive and best completed while your academic coursework is still fresh in your mind. Even if you don’t currently anticipate acquiring the PE designation later in your career, passing the FE will grant you the Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineering Intern (EI) certification. (These designations vary by state but are equivalent.) This certification will give your resume a boost as you start your career.
Although certifications aren’t required to work as a manufacturing engineer, some can help further your career.
The two most common certifications are the Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) and Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE). The CMfgT is an entry-level certification that can be obtained with four years of manufacturing work experience and/or related formal education. It requires completion of a 3-hour exam with a mark of at least 60%.
The CMfgE is for those who have several years of work experience, particularly in a leadership role. It can be obtained after you’ve acquired a minimum of eight years of manufacturing work experience and/or related formal education (seven years if you already hold the CMfgT certification). It requires completion of a 4-hour exam with a mark of at least 60%.
There are several other certifications that can help advance your career by demonstrating your knowledge and your commitment to excellence in your field. For example:
- The Certified Additive Manufacturing-Fundamentals certification is valuable for those who work in additive manufacturing roles in the automotive, aerospace, or medical equipment fields;
- Lean Certification, which validates your commitment to improving manufacturing efficiency with the implementation of lean principles; and
- The Certified ScrumMaster designation indicates your proficiency with Scrum, a project management framework that is valuable for those in leadership roles.
Ideal Skill Set
Manufacturing engineers require a strong balance of technical and soft skills. Not only are they responsible for maintaining machines but also for creating processes, solving problems, staying on budget, and managing people.
A comprehensive guide on manufacturing engineering from the New England Institute of Technology lists the following skills as being essential to the role:
- Analytical skills to help determine inefficiencies and how to solve them;
- Communication skills to assist all levels of employees at the plant, manage and/or lead teams, and interact with vendors;
- Technical skills to operate and maintain the tools, equipment, and technology used in the production process;
- Problem-solving skills to find solutions to issues in the manufacturing process and to resolve issues between people;
- Organizational and prioritization skills to help balance the wide variety of daily duties plus troubleshooting responsibilities; and
- Lean manufacturing skills to reduce waste without compromising productivity.
Typical Job Duties
While the exact nature of a manufacturing engineer’s duties will vary based on the industry employed in and the company’s policies, the basis of the role is ensuring that products are manufactured in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way, while reducing waste, and ensuring quality and safety standards are met.
As factories are in development, manufacturing engineers advise on the best technologies and machinery for production, and possibly help to plan and design the factory itself. They also design the manufacturing process and develop an operational plan. Once production begins, they monitor equipment, train others on how to operate that equipment, and identify process improvements.
In addition to working with the machinery and technology that creates the product, manufacturing engineers might work with both the raw material and the end product, managing inventory control, quality control, material flow, cost analysis, procurement, and vendor management.
Manufacturing engineers work in a wide variety of industries and workplaces – essentially any business that produces an end product. As a manufacturing engineer, you may work in any of the following industries:
- Food and drink;
- Oil refinery;
- Plant and machinery manufacture; and
Regardless of which industry you become employed in, you will likely work shifts. Most companies have morning and afternoon shifts and, if the plant runs 24/7, there will be overnight shifts as well. The number of shifts you work will depend on the company and your current work processes. Some companies offer consistent scheduling while others will expect engineers to rotate shifts, work double shifts 3-4 days per week, or work additional shifts when large projects are rolling out or if an emergency on the floor needs to be addressed.
While some office work is required, most manufacturing engineers spend the bulk of their day on the production floor. The work is often very hands-on – maintaining machines, solving problems, and assisting other staff. While most manufacturing engineers work indoors, the work environment can be noisy and distracting, and you will be expected to wear protective or safety equipment.
Manufacturing engineering is anything but routine. Each day brings new challenges to solve and new knowledge to share. It can be an extremely rewarding career.