Without question, engineering is one of the most demanding professions. Successful production engineering requires mastering skills and being agile and responsive to change, but that’s just to start. Here are some of the challenges of manufacturing and automation engineering, and how to turn obstacles into successes :
Manufacturers must meet extremely tight and stressful deadlines to market their products. Projects generally take time, cost, and quality into account in the manufacturing sector and thus tend to be tightly controlled and rigidly managed. Failing to meet deadlines means companies risk losing millions of dollars in revenue and potential profit.
The ability to change during the project is limited by strict monitoring and rigidity. Many of these projects require a commitment to design from the beginning, with little flexibility to adapt as new information emerges or requirements change. This can be challenging and stressful for engineers who want to produce the best possible product but face time constraints.
Speed to market also introduces pressure to ensure the right production cadences and to consider personnel management in the context of a shortage. Balancing speed with quality and overall objectives as requires fully understanding the following factors and additional hurdles:
- Production deadlines,
- Timelines to meet goals,
- Client relationships,
- Preparing for the rapid evolution of new technologies,
- The prejudice that engineers are supposed to know everything,
- Working with less skilled labor, since many companies don’t want to invest in training.
BETTER, FASTER, CHEAPER
Workers often spend time performing manual tasks that could be automated or conducting software-managed maintenance. The lack of awareness in companies that do not invest properly in technology about operations, machine condition, and quality factors creates a lot of time-consuming work for engineers — not to mention the lack of competitive advantage that results from less-than-efficient processes.
Registered Engineer, Licensed Electrical Contractor, and Certified Automation Professional are important certifications, but they require continuous education.
Management should always recognize these three priorities:
- Safety: each team member should be seen as a key to safety, set an example, and take care of others,
- Process improvement: provide targets to resolve service and performance problems,
- Personal development: it involves initiatives that generate people’s knowledge and also bring value to the business. Personal development keeps employees excited about learning and applying new information and helps the business to grow and improve operations, creating a long-lasting relationship between both.
Download The Ultimate Checklist For Engineers To Be In Control and Avoid Downtime In Your Production by clicking HERE
Another issue no one talks about is the need for engineers to train to keep their skills up to date. Most of the time, when starting a new job or project in automation, there is no intensive electrical/mechanical training on location. However, technologies evolve exponentially and quickly.
Today, you need to be an expert in these new tools to be able to identify diagnostics through networks, software, intelligent instrumentation, and standards. Even if you are encouraged to attend educational conferences and read articles on industry developments, it is often difficult to find free time. Developing innovative skills and solutions and finding areas for process improvement and new opportunities in the plants are ongoing challenges.
Automation engineers also need to stay updated on trends and applications of innovations in computing, electricity, and mechanics. They should stay up-to-date through publications with many examples of applications in which a specific feature has been implemented.
Check out our video of Life Sciences Assembly System, a perfect example of the challenges faced by today’s engineers.
Most modern processes require a degree of flexibility in automation, especially to ensure that efficiency-boosting innovations are leveraged.
This applies to both hardware and software. Features like greater recipe management and detailed tracking/tracing capabilities help improve productivity. Using multi-purpose machines with flexible control systems, including those that use field-programmable gate arrays, allow the processors to be reprogrammed after deployment for agility in the field. Also, motor/drive combinations can adapt to different applications as needed.
The new best-in-class standard approach for OEMs is flexibility—both in the systems they use to produce their machines as well as in the machines they produce. The need for flexibility is ultimately driven by the final end customers’ customization requirements, which, in turn, drives the OEM’s need for flexibility.
The need for flexibility also impacts hiring new engineers. Manufacturing engineers are responsible for designing a process of making products that’s as cost-effective as possible while satisfying customer needs. A candidate should demonstrate knowledge of corrective action procedures that formally address customer complaints. They should also be able to describe how they’d thoroughly investigate activity on the production line. Problems could include human error, poor testing procedures, or unsuitable machines. Pay attention to examples the applicant cites from experience. Here’s what to look for in an answer:
- Knowledge of corrective action procedures,
- Analytical and process engineering skills,
- Communication skills with workers and other engineers.
THE COMFORT ZONE
Although skill and experience are quite important in the product engineering process, becoming too comfortable with a system can lead to resisting new techniques, features, and equipment that can spark improvements.
Automation partners can be great allies because of their experience, but automation engineers can be reluctant to reach out for assistance. This reluctance might be because, as professionals, the engineers might not want to seem in the dark about the latest trends or best practices.
In recent years, lack of skills has been a major concern for US manufacturers. In 2014, it was reported that over 75% of respondents in the manufacturing sector had a shortage of skilled workers, particularly in positions requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree.
Research by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte predicts that there could be up to 2.4 million unfilled jobs in the manufacturing sector between 2018 and 2028, up from the initial estimate of 600,000. Baby Boomers are aging and retiring, and there are simply not enough skilled workers to fill the positions they are leaving.
While the manufacturing sector has seen incredible growth over the past two decades, manufacturers have the challenge of finding a solution to meet the demand.
This quest for a “better, faster, cheaper” system, process, or model, is not always ideal. Efficiencies in time and cost certainly benefit processes, but innovation drives true progress.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Increasingly, engineers need to be able to communicate and cooperate with other people at the factory, particularly the operators who deal with the system daily and know when production is going well and when an unusual situation is happening.
This need for collaboration and communication will persist, especially regarding key factors such as unit cost, cost of energy, and other areas of process efficiency improvements.
These are just a few of the challenges faced in 2020 by the production engineers. Luckily, today there are tools and software that companies can use to provide employees and customers with user experience, and the features and information organizations need to succeed.
Whatever the challenges may be, organizations cannot ignore them if they want to continue to ride the manufacturing resurgence.
OUR RECOMMENDATION TO FACE THESE CHALLENGES
- Evaluate regularly your processes and technologies. You need to understand if it takes too much time to deliver a final product.
- Check your internal and supply chain processes, design and manufacturing efficiency (or lack thereof), and the technologies used to support your operations, from design to completion. You can likely find many areas for improvement and anticipate the next challenges.
- Create a better alignment between sales and engineering by informing sales about the processes required to deliver your company’s products at the level of quality you promise. Make sure they inform your department about future changes of the final products so that you can be prepared to make amendments to your processes if needed.
- Inform the customer of your production processes so that he understands how much time you have left before delivering. Communication in both ways should become a standard as they will enable you to elevate your quality work.