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How to became a Production Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Updated: Mar 13



How to became a Production Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Introduction to Production Engineering


Production engineering is a branch of engineering focused on the design, improvement, installation, and management of integrated systems of people, machinery, materials, and technology used to manufacture products. It is an important field in manufacturing that bridges the gap between product design and manufacturing processes.


The role of a production engineer is to take a product design and figure out the most efficient way to manufacture it. They need to determine the machining operations, workflow, quality control systems, equipment and tooling, plant layout, material handling methods, and manufacturing processes needed to create the product per the design.


Production engineers are involved across the entire manufacturing cycle. Their key responsibilities include:


  • Analyzing product designs and specifications to determine manufacturing requirements

  • Selecting, implementing, and improving production processes, equipment, tooling, and plant layout

  • Creating and optimizing production schedules, material flows, and inventory management

  • Designing control and testing methods to ensure quality standards are met

  • Coordinating maintenance activities to minimize equipment downtime

  • Developing cost estimates and budgets for production

  • Leading process improvement initiatives to increase efficiency


Production engineering plays a vital role in manufacturing. By bridging the gap between product design and manufacturing, production engineers enable companies to cost-effectively manufacture products that meet specifications and quality standards. Their expertise in manufacturing processes, systems integration, and optimization helps organizations gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The work of competent production engineers leads to higher productivity, lower costs, improved quality, and reduced time-to-market for manufactured goods.


Typical Background Needed


To become a production engineer, you will typically need an educational background in engineering, usually mechanical engineering or industrial engineering.


Education


Most production engineer roles require at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, industrial engineering or a similar engineering field. Coursework in these programs provides the foundational engineering, math, science, and technical skills needed to design, improve and manage manufacturing processes. Classes in quality control, industrial engineering, manufacturing processes, CAD, and more are very applicable to production engineering.


While you can find some entry-level roles that only require an associates degree, a bachelor's degree is considered the standard credential for most production engineer positions. Some even prefer or require a master's degree for more advanced roles.


Skills


In additional to an engineering education, production engineers need a specific set of technical and soft skills, including:


  • Analytical skills - Ability to interpret data, analyze systems, and find solutions to manufacturing challenges.


  • Technical knowledge - Understanding of manufacturing processes, equipment, production principles, automation, quality control, etc.


  • Communication skills - Able to clearly communicate with team members, management, clients, etc.

  • Problem-solving - Use critical thinking to troubleshoot issues and optimize production.

  • Organizational skills - Manage multiple tasks and oversee entire production workflow.

  • Teamwork - Collaborate with cross-functional teams like design, quality, maintenance, etc.


Certifications


While not always required, certain certifications can help demonstrate specialized expertise:


  • Lean Six Sigma - Certifications like Yellow Belt or Green Belt in Lean and/or Six Sigma principles.


  • SME Certifications - The Society of Manufacturing Engineers offers certifications related to lean, quality, manufacturing processes, and more.

  • ASQ Certifications - Certifications from the American Society for Quality in areas like quality auditing, Six Sigma, quality improvement, etc.

Daily Responsibilities of a Production Engineer


A production engineer's day-to-day duties and responsibilities can vary based on the company and industry, but there are some core tasks that are common for the role:


Process Design and Improvement


  • Design, evaluate and optimize manufacturing processes - identify opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase throughput. Conduct time studies, create process flow diagrams, analyze bottlenecks.

  • Develop new production and assembly methods, equipment designs and layouts of machinery, tooling and human resources.

  • Work with R&D teams on transferring product designs to production. Analyze product designs for manufacturability.

  • Implement process updates, adjustments and changes on the factory floor. Oversee testing of new processes and technologies.


Overseeing Production Runs


  • Schedule and coordinate production activities to meet customer requirements.


  • Monitor production runs. Troubleshoot issues that arise to minimize downtime.

  • Ensure sufficient materials, equipment and personnel are available for production runs.

  • Supervise operators, technicians and other staff involved in production. Provide guidance and training as needed.

  • Enforce safety regulations and quality standards during production.


Managing Budgets and Resources


  • Develop budgets and schedules for production activities, equipment purchases, maintenance projects, etc.

  • Negotiate contracts with vendors and suppliers. Obtain quotes and purchase materials and equipment.

  • Hire, train, and manage production personnel. Assign duties and shifts.

  • Track production costs and productivity levels. Identify opportunities to reduce costs.


Quality Control and Standards


  • Set and oversee policies, procedures and standards to ensure quality of products.

  • Conduct testing throughout production to maintain quality control. Address defects and variances.

  • Implement quality assurance programs and control metrics. Utilize statistical analysis.

  • Prepare documentation and reports related to quality, inspections, testing, etc.


Additional Duties


  • Support new product introduction and integration into production system.


  • Collaborate with cross-functional teams like sales, procurement, and R&D.


  • Comply with regulations, codes, and safety standards. Coordinate audits as needed.


  • Analyze data from production runs. Identify areas for improvement.


  • Other duties as needed to optimize productivity and efficiency.


Career Advancement for Production Engineers


Production engineering offers strong career advancement potential for motivated professionals. Here is the typical career path and progression:


Entry-Level Production Engineer


After graduating with a bachelor's degree in mechanical, manufacturing, industrial, or related engineering, most start as entry-level production engineers. In this role, you will gain hands-on experience in manufacturing facilities, working on the production floor alongside technicians and operators. Typical responsibilities include:


  • Analyzing production processes and identifying areas for optimization


  • Troubleshooting breakdowns and other issues on the production line


  • Assisting with the launch of new products and production lines


  • Participating in continuous improvement initiatives and kaizen events


  • Creating detailed documentation, standard operating procedures


  • Ensuring production safety and quality standards are met


This role provides a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of manufacturing operations. Many new production engineers participate in a 12-18 month rotational program to get experience in multiple areas.


Senior Production Engineer


After 3-5 years experience, production engineers can progress to senior-level roles with more autonomy and leadership duties such as:


  • Leading teams of technicians and coordinating daily production schedules/resources


  • Overseeing larger projects to improve production systems and processes


  • Managing maintenance and purchasing of production equipment


  • Conducting risk assessments and identifying critical points of failure


  • Training and mentoring more junior team members


  • Interfacing directly with internal stakeholders and external vendors


Management and Leadership Roles


With additional experience and demonstrated leadership capabilities, Production Engineers may move into management and executive positions such as:


  • Production Manager - overseeing all aspects of manufacturing operations for a facility

  • Director of Manufacturing - strategic planning and managing multiple plant operations

  • VP of Operations - executive-level oversight of production, supply chain, and related functions


The pinnacle for many is the Plant Manager role, being responsible for the entire manufacturing site and all employees. Demonstrating strong technical expertise as an individual contributor combined with people management and leadership skills can open up opportunities for taking on these greater responsibilities and advancing to senior management. The operational knowledge gained as a Production Engineer builds a strong foundation for moving into executive positions.


Job Outlook and Salary for Production Engineers


The job outlook for production engineers is very promising, with the field projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is due to continued demand across manufacturing industries like automotive, aerospace, medical devices, electronics, and more. Companies rely on production engineers to optimize and streamline their manufacturing processes.


The average salary for a production engineer is $83,000 per year. However, salaries can vary significantly based on factors like location, industry, experience level, and company size.


Some of the top paying industries for production engineers include:


  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing - Average salary $95,000

  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing - Average salary $92,000

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing - Average salary $89,000


Some of the top paying metropolitan areas for production engineers include:


  • San Jose, CA - Average salary $108,000

  • Seattle, WA - Average salary $104,000

  • Boston, MA - Average salary $101,000


With strong job growth projected and competitive salaries, a production engineering career offers very good job security and earning potential. The most lucrative positions tend to be with large technology and advanced manufacturing companies, or in major metro areas with a strong manufacturing base. Overall the outlook is positive for qualified production engineers.


Finding a Production Engineering Job


Landing that first job or transitioning into a production engineering role takes strategy and preparation. Here are some tips to help you find open positions and put your best foot forward during the application process:


Where to Look for Open Positions


  • Company career sites: Many larger manufacturers and engineering firms will post production engineering jobs directly on their careers page. Bookmark the sites of companies you're interested in and check back frequently.


  • Job boards: General sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster as well as engineering-specific boards like EngineerJobs and iHireEngineering are great places to search for opportunities. Be sure to use relevant keywords like "production engineering" in your searches.


  • Professional associations: Organizations like SME and ASME often list job openings on their sites. Take advantage of professional membership by accessing these exclusive listings.

  • University career centers: Your alumni career center is plugged into job opportunities specifically seeking new graduates so leverage this channel during and after school.

  • Networking events: Attending local engineering association meetings and conferences puts you face-to-face with hiring managers. Come prepared with resumes and an elevator pitch.


Tips for Resumes and Interviews


  • Highlight technical skills: Ensure your resume prominently features any experience with CAD, manufacturing processes, quality control, automation, etc. These hands-on skills are highly valued.

  • Include relevant projects: Showcase class, internship or hobby projects that demonstrate your engineering knowledge and ability to solve problems.

  • Prepare STAR stories: Come up with 3-5 situational examples that showcase skills like project management, troubleshooting, decision making. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your interview stories.

  • Ask thoughtful questions: Questions about mentoring opportunities, company culture, and continuing education demonstrate sincere interest in the role and company.

  • Send thank you notes: Follow up with a thank you email after the interview reiterating your interest and fit. Make a personal connection to something discussed.


Networking Opportunities


  • LinkedIn Join industry and alumni groups to connect with other professionals and firms. Follow companies you're interested in working for.

  • Conferences: Attend regional or national manufacturing and engineering conferences like FABTECH. Talk to exhibitors about opportunities.

  • Informational interviews: Reach out to engineers on LinkedIn for a quick chat to get advice and learn about companies. Ask about openings.

  • Student competitions: SAE and ASME host various design and manufacturing competitions. Network with sponsor companies.

  • University events: Attend career fairs and corporate info sessions to get face time and practice interviewing. Follow up after.


Pros and Cons of Becoming a Production Engineer


Becoming a production engineer can be a very rewarding career path, but it's important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before pursuing this role. Here are some of the key pros and cons to consider:


Advantages


  • Apply problem-solving skills: Production engineers get to tackle complex technical challenges on a daily basis. They use critical thinking and analysis to find solutions to manufacturing issues. This work provides great satisfaction for people who enjoy solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles.

  • Utilize in-depth technical knowledge: Production engineers need a strong foundation in mechanical engineering, manufacturing processes, computer science, and other STEM fields. The job enables leveraging this knowledge to analyze systems, improve designs, and streamline production.

  • Work in a stable industry: Manufacturing is a mature, established industry that provides job security and steady demand for qualified engineers. As long as there are products to build, there will be a need for production expertise.


Disadvantages


  • High-stress levels: Production issues require quick resolutions to minimize downtime and lost revenue. This can create a high-pressure environment with long hours needed to get production lines running smoothly again.


  • Managing competing priorities: Production engineers juggle many responsibilities from quality control to equipment maintenance. Keeping all the balls in the air and stakeholders happy is challenging.

  • Less design work: While production engineers get involved in product design, they focus more on manufacturing processes than creating new products. Engineers who want to spend more time on innovative design work may find production engineering too rigid.


Overall, if you enjoy applying technical skills to solve real-world problems, don't mind working under pressure, and want to work in a stable engineering field, then production engineering can be very rewarding. But it's important to be aware of the downsides like high stress levels and less emphasis on design work. Understanding these pros and cons will help you decide if this career path is a good fit.


Similar and Related Careers


Becoming a production engineer involves majoring in an engineering field and gaining work experience in manufacturing. There are several other engineering careers related to production engineering that require a similar path and provide additional options.


Manufacturing Engineer


Manufacturing engineers work closely with production engineers to design efficient manufacturing processes and ensure smooth production. They focus more on the manufacturing systems and automation, whereas production engineers oversee the hands-on day-to-day operation. Manufacturing engineering involves continuous process improvement and keeping up with the latest industry technologies.


Industrial Engineer


Industrial engineers optimize complex systems and processes, often utilizing simulations and advanced analytics. They focus on improving quality, productivity and efficiency. Industrial engineers analyze supply chains, implement process improvements, and study human factors in the workplace. Their work complements production engineering.


Quality Engineer


Quality engineers develop and implement quality control processes. They perform robust testing to ensure products meet specifications and comply with regulations. Quality engineers prevent defects, analyze metrics, and recommend improvements. They collaborate with production engineers to resolve quality issues and increase customer satisfaction.


Process Engineer


Process engineers design and optimize the steps and flow of manufacturing processes. They figure out how to produce items on a large scale efficiently and cost-effectively. Process engineers work on cutting edge technologies and automation to maximize output. Their process creation and enhancement assists production engineers.


Industry Trends and Developments


Production engineering is an ever-evolving field being shaped by major industry trends. Here are some of the key developments that current and aspiring production engineers should be aware of:


Automation and Smart Factories


Automation is transforming production operations, enabling self-optimizing production lines and smart factories. Production engineers need skills in smart automation systems, data analytics, and AI to design these futuristic factories. Knowledge of robotics and machine learning is becoming highly valued.


Digitalization and Connectivity


The rise of Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 means production systems are getting connected through sensors, data capture and analytics. Production engineers must leverage real-time data flows and digital twin simulations to maximize efficiency. Connectivity skills are crucial.


Advanced Analytics and Big Data


With vast data being generated on the factory floor, production engineers are relying on predictive analytics, forecasting models and optimization algorithms to gain insights. Being able to analyze, interpret and act on data is now a critical capability.


Sustainable Manufacturing


Eco-friendly manufacturing practices are coming to the forefront, driven by regulations and consumer demand. Production engineers are integrating sustainability into planning by minimizing waste, energy use and carbon footprint. Knowledge of clean technologies is important.


The world of manufacturing is undergoing rapid change. Production engineers who skill up in emerging technologies like automation, data analytics and sustainability will be well-poised to meet the challenges ahead. Having cutting-edge technical knowledge can open up exciting opportunities in this dynamic field.


Advice for Aspiring Production Engineers


Focus on Getting Relevant Experience


Gaining relevant experience should be a top priority for aspiring production engineers. Try to get internships or co-ops in manufacturing settings. This hands-on experience will give you skills and knowledge that can't be learned in the classroom. Look for opportunities at plants, factories, or other industrial companies. Any exposure to production environments and real-world manufacturing will be valuable.


Develop Both Technical and Soft Skills


Production engineers need a mix of technical engineering abilities as well as soft skills. Make sure to develop your technical skills in areas like CAD, CNC, PLCs, automation, quality control, and more through coursework and hands-on practice. But don't neglect soft skills like communication, teamwork, problem solving, project management, and organization. These interpersonal and business skills are crucial for production engineers who work cross-functionally.


Choose Electives and Certifications Strategically


When possible, take electives directly related to manufacturing and production engineering. Courses in operations management, supply chain, robotics, and other technical areas can give you knowledge to draw on. Additionally, certifications like Six Sigma Green Belt can make you more hireable and capable on the job. Research which certs are valued and pursue ones that fit your interests and career goals.


Get Exposure to Different Manufacturing Environments


Tour local plants and factories to see production engineering in action. Observe how things are done across different companies and manufacturing settings. This will help you understand the field better and make more informed career decisions. Don't limit yourself to just one industry or company - try to get broad experience across automotive, aerospace, consumer products, and any other sectors.


Join Professional Organizations as a Student


Look into student chapters of professional groups like SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) or ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers). This is a great way to start building your professional network early. Attend meetings and events to connect with working engineers. They can provide valuable advice as mentors.

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