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How to became a Quality Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Updated: Mar 13



How to became a Quality Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Earn an Engineering Degree


To become a quality engineer, you must earn an undergraduate degree, typically in mechanical, industrial, manufacturing, or materials engineering. However, other engineering disciplines like electrical, chemical, and biomedical engineering can also provide the foundation needed for a career in quality engineering.


Some key considerations for your bachelor's degree include:


  • Take courses in statistics, metrology, manufacturing processes, engineering economics, and technical writing. These will all be directly applicable to your future work in quality control and analysis.

  • Complete an internship or co-op with a manufacturing company to gain hands-on experience with production processes and quality standards. This can help you secure a full-time position after graduation.

  • Do projects related to statistical analysis, Design of Experiments (DOE), or Six Sigma. This demonstrates your interest and competency in quality methodologies to employers.

  • Take electives in business, computer science, and human factors engineering to expand your skill set. Quality engineering intersects with many domains.

Ideally, your undergraduate studies will provide a balanced curriculum across quality, engineering, statistics, and business. This diverse yet technical foundation is key to launching a successful career as a quality engineer.


Get Quality Engineering Training


Getting on-the-job training is one of the best ways to gain the hands-on experience required for a career in quality engineering. Many aspiring quality engineers start out in entry-level engineering or manufacturing roles where they can learn about quality control processes and get familiar with equipment and standards for quality testing.


Completing an internship in quality assurance or quality control is highly recommended while pursuing your engineering degree. Look for opportunities at manufacturing plants or engineering firms that produce technical products or services. An internship allows you to apply what you're learning in school and gain relevant experience that will help you land a full-time quality engineering job after graduation.


Some colleges and universities also partner with local companies to offer co-op programs that integrate work experience with academic learning. Alternating short academic terms with full-time co-op employment terms exposes students to the day-to-day responsibilities of a quality engineer. Hands-on training prepares co-op students to hit the ground running in a junior quality engineer role after finishing their degree.


Whether through an on-campus co-op program or by seeking out summer internships on your own, make getting quality engineering work experience a priority. The specific problem-solving and quality management skills you gain from real-world training are invaluable. This hands-on experience combined with your degree will position you for success as you embark on your quality engineering career after graduation.


## Obtain Certification


Professional certifications can help quality engineers showcase their expertise and advance their careers. Some of the most recognized certifications for quality engineers include:


  • Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) - Offered by the American Society for Quality, the CQE focuses on quality engineering fundamentals, management and leadership, quality systems, product reliability, and quantitative methods. Candidates must have 8 years of on-the-job experience in quality engineering.

  • Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) - Administered by the American Society for Quality, the CMQ/OE is geared towards professionals managing quality systems. Applicants must have 10 years of experience, with at least 5 years in a decision-making position.

  • Certified Quality Improvement Associate (CQIA) - From the American Society for Quality, the CQIA assesses knowledge of quality tools and principles. It's targeted at those new to quality engineering or in quality-related roles.

  • Certified Six Sigma Black Belt - Offered by the American Society for Quality, the ASQ SSBB requires candidates to demonstrate implementation of Six Sigma methodologies. Applicants need 2 completed projects with financial benefits.

  • Additional specialized certifications - Quality engineers can get certifications related to specific standards like ISO, industries like healthcare or automotive, or methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma.


Earning relevant certifications allows quality engineers to stand out when applying for jobs and promotions. Some companies may even require certain certifications for senior quality roles. It's recommended quality engineers periodically evaluate which certifications correspond to their experience levels and career goals.


Start as a Quality Engineer I


The first role many aspiring quality engineers land after completing their education is Quality Engineer I. This is considered an entry-level position.


As a Quality Engineer I, some of your key responsibilities will include:


  • Learning and following the quality control procedures, standards, and documentation methods used by the company. This includes familiarizing yourself with any quality management systems or frameworks adopted by the organization.

  • Conducting inspections of materials, parts, and products to check for defects, flaws, and deviations from specifications. This may involve visual inspection, as well as using measuring tools and testing equipment.

  • Analyzing inspection and testing data to identify the root causes of quality issues. You'll need to use problem solving skills to determine where flaws originated and how processes can be improved.

  • Documenting quality issues, test results, inspections, corrective actions, and other activities related to quality control. Strong technical writing skills are essential.

  • Participating in any audits conducted by quality standards agencies. You may also assist with internal audits of procedures and processes.

  • Identifying areas where quality improvements can be made and suggesting corrective actions when standards are not met.

  • Communicating about quality issues and control processes with team members and cross-functional partners. Collaboration is key.

  • Learning about industry codes, government regulations, quality management frameworks, and customer requirements that apply to the products or services being produced.


The goal at this stage of your career is to gain proficiency in quality assurance methods, build your technical expertise, and understand the quality standards and expectations for your role. By taking initiative and delivering results as a Quality Engineer I, you'll be on track for more responsibility.


Advance to Quality Engineer II


After 2-5 years of experience as a Quality Engineer I, you can aim to advance your career to the role of Quality Engineer II. During your first few years on the job, focus on consistently demonstrating your expertise in quality standards, testing methods, inspection techniques, and statistical analysis. Learn your company's specific quality procedures thoroughly and seek opportunities to take on additional responsibility.


As a Quality Engineer II, you will gain more autonomy and often manage small teams of more junior Quality Engineers. Key responsibilities at this stage can include:


  • Overseeing critical manufacturing and production processes to identify quality improvements

  • Leading root cause analysis investigations when defects occur

  • Developing and implementing enhanced quality testing protocols

  • Training Quality Engineer I team members on quality processes

  • Conducting supplier audits and ensuring compliance with quality standards

  • Analyzing quality data to spot trends and optimize quality assurance procedures

  • Reporting on quality metrics to department leadership


The main requirements to reach Quality Engineer II are:


  • Bachelor's degree in Engineering, Quality, or a related field

  • 2-5 years of experience as a Quality Engineer I

  • In-depth knowledge of quality standards like ISO 9001, ASQ, or Six Sigma

  • Proficiency in using quality management systems and statistical tools

  • Strong project management, communication, and team leadership abilities


As a Quality Engineer II, you can expect your salary to increase to $70,000 - $90,000 annually. With a few more years under your belt, you'll be ready to advance further as a Quality Engineer III.


Become a Quality Engineer III


With 5+ years of experience as a quality engineer, you can advance your career further by becoming a Quality Engineer III. In this role, you will take on more responsibility and lead larger, more complex quality engineering initiatives.


As a Quality Engineer III, you will manage a team of quality engineers, overseeing their work and providing guidance. You will coordinate on projects across multiple departments to ensure quality standards are met.


Your responsibilities may include:


  • Managing quality engineering teams of 5-10 engineers

  • Leading large-scale quality audits, analysis, and reporting

  • Identifying critical quality issues and implementing solutions

  • Overseeing supplier quality engineering and inspection

  • Coordinating with cross-functional teams like engineering, manufacturing, and suppliers

  • Developing and updating quality control processes and procedures

  • Training quality engineers on methods, standards, and software

  • Preparing and presenting findings to upper management

  • Recommending quality improvements aligned with business goals


To become a Quality Engineer III, you will need:


  • Bachelor's degree in engineering or science

  • 5+ years of quality engineering experience

  • In-depth knowledge of quality standards and industry regulations

  • Strong project management and leadership skills

  • Ability to influence with technical expertise and data analysis

  • Proficiency with Statistical Process Control (SPC) and quality tools

  • Certification such as ASQ Certified Quality Engineer (CQE)


The Quality Engineer III role carries more responsibility but also higher earning potential. The average salary for a Quality Engineer III is between $85,000 to $105,000 per year. The role provides opportunities to advance to leadership positions like Quality Manager, Quality Director, or VP of Quality.


Transition to Senior Positions


After a number of years of experience as a quality engineer, you may have the opportunity to transition into more senior roles with increased leadership responsibilities. Here are some of the common senior positions in quality engineering and what they entail:


Quality Engineering Manager


In this management role, you will oversee a team of quality engineers and coordinate quality assurance activities. As a quality engineering manager, you will:


  • Recruit, hire, and train quality engineers

  • Set goals and initiatives for the quality engineering team

  • Ensure products and processes meet quality standards and requirements

  • Identify areas for improvement in quality systems

  • Lead root cause analysis of quality issues

  • Review inspection, testing, and audit results

  • Report on quality metrics to upper management

Director of Quality Engineering


As a director, you will create quality assurance strategy at the organizational level and align quality objectives with broader business goals. Your responsibilities may include:


  • Developing quality policies, procedures, and best practices

  • Overseeing quality engineering teams across multiple departments or sites

  • Collaborating with cross-functional teams like R&D, manufacturing, and procurement

  • Advising senior leadership on quality-related matters

  • Driving quality culture throughout the organization

  • Implementing quality management frameworks like Six Sigma

  • Leveraging quality data to make data-driven business decisions

  • Staying current on industry regulations and quality standards


The director role allows you to have a greater strategic impact on quality at the executive level. With proven leadership capabilities and expertise, quality engineers can climb to the top rungs of the career ladder.


Lead Quality Initiatives


As a senior quality engineer or quality engineering manager, you will be expected to lead major quality initiatives at your company. This involves coordinating cross-functional teams to implement new quality systems, oversee process improvements, and conduct regular quality audits.


You may be tasked with introducing standards like ISO 9000 or Six Sigma. This requires training employees on new procedures, modifying internal processes, and ensuring adherence to the quality framework. Leading by example is essential - you need to demonstrate meticulous record-keeping, thorough auditing skills, and principled decision-making.


Conducting regular audits is another critical responsibility. You will plan and schedule audits, assemble audit teams, develop checklists, and summarize findings in reports. Audits ensure that processes meet specifications, identify risks or defects, and highlight areas for improvement. Your analytical approach during audits will set the standard for quality across the organization.


As a quality leader, you will analyze audit data to make recommendations to senior management. This may involve proposing new quality objectives, upgrading equipment and software, or implementing advanced techniques like statistical process control. Your expertise and perspective on quality will inform strategic decisions.


With strong leadership capabilities and technical knowledge, senior quality engineers play a vital role in quality management. Your vision and commitment can elevate product quality, reduce risks, and promote continuous improvement.


Advocate Continuous Improvement


As a quality engineer advances in their career, they will likely take on more responsibility for advocating continuous improvement initiatives within their organization. Some of the main philosophies that quality engineers champion include:


Lean


Lean involves systematically eliminating waste from processes. Quality engineers use tools like value stream mapping to identify non-value added steps that can be removed. This helps optimize workflow, reduce costs, and speed up production.


Six Sigma


Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation and defects. Quality engineers are often involved in Six Sigma projects and use statistical analysis and process controls to bring processes to near "Six Sigma" levels of quality (3.4 defects per million).


Total Quality Management (TQM)


TQM promotes a culture of quality across every process and function in an organization. As experts in quality, engineers play a key role in implementing TQM programs. This involves extensive process auditing, measurement, reporting, and change management.


As trusted advisors on quality, engineers have an opportunity to gain buy-in from stakeholders and facilitate transformational system-wide changes. By staying current with the latest continuous improvement best practices, engineers can effectively lead initiatives that enhance customer satisfaction and business performance. Championing innovative quality programs also allows engineers to demonstrate strategic value and leadership capabilities.


Stay Current on Standards


Quality engineers must continuously update their knowledge as standards and regulations evolve. Some key ways to stay current include:


  • Follow developments in ISO standards like ISO 9000, which provides guidance and tools for quality management systems. Keep up to date on revisions to these standards.

  • Learn industry-specific standards that are relevant to your field, such as AS9100 for aerospace, ISO 13485 for medical devices, and ISO/TS 16949 for automotive. These standards help define quality system requirements for particular industries.

  • Take continuing education courses on quality standards and frameworks like Six Sigma and Lean. Many online courses, seminars, and training programs are available.

  • Read quality engineering publications to learn about new developments. Trade magazines often cover changes to regulations and quality management practices.

  • Attend conferences and events to connect with peers and learn about the latest quality assurance tools and methodologies.

  • Pursue additional certifications to validate your expertise, such as ASQ certifications in quality auditing, Six Sigma, quality improvement associate, or manager of quality.


Keeping pace with changes to standards, regulations, and best practices will ensure quality engineers remain effective in their roles. Dedicating time to ongoing learning is essential for advancement.

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