Manufacturing engineers are responsible for creating products from start to finish, oftentimes researching and developing processes to help make the manufacturing process more efficient. Online manufacturing engineering degrees help train students for these positions, teaching them the fundamentals that guide work in the field.
The job duties of manufacturing engineers are outlined by their employer. However, the following are common responsibilities of those who obtain these positions.
- Conducting research to evaluate the efficiency of a manufacturing process
- Preparing product reports
- Coordinating with suppliers and vendors to create product part specifications, a delivery schedule and pricing options
- Ensuring that projects are done within budgetary and scheduling constraints
- Understanding how to create products that adhere to relevant government regulations
In order to obtain an entry-level position, these professionals must earn a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering from a school accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC), which is part of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Those who want to advance in their careers, or obtain managerial jobs, are generally expected to obtain an advanced manufacturing engineering degree. Although not a requirement to get a job, some employers prefer candidates who have earned a professional certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
Coursework in Online Manufacturing Engineering Degree Programs
Online manufacturing engineering degree programs give students an understanding of the concepts of the field, as well as how that theoretical knowledge can be applied to real work problems they will encounter. Although the specific coursework that students complete differs from school to school, the following are courses that students can generally expect to find in a manufacturing engineering curriculum.
Manufacturing design and simulation
Simulation technologies give manufacturing engineers the freedom to experiment with different product designs in order to determine which one works best for a project. Students who take this course learn about the methods for creating designs with simulation software, the principles of manufacturing systems and alternative system designs. In addition, this course covers how technical reports are prepared to communicate the results of a simulation experiment.
Design for manufacturability
For a product to be manufactured successfully, engineers must ensure that the design is functional and can be produced economically. This course teaches students how to design projects that can be easily assembled mechanically or manually and choose materials that will keep manufacturing costs down. In order for students to get a real-world perspective of the course material, they may be required to review case studies.
Materials and manufacturing processes
When creating a product design, engineers must understand different manufacturing materials in order to choose the best one for a project. Students in this class become familiar with how materials are made into different shapes, how alternative designs are made to use materials most effectively and how materials are selected for specific projects. In addition, students learn about the ceramic, metal and polymer material classes, as well as formulas that are used by engineers, including flexure, shear and torsion formulas.
Quality control and improvement
This course familiarizes students with quality assurance and management. Specific course topics include quality-control charts and how they are used, assessment of consumer risk that may be associated with a project and acceptance sampling. In order to give students hands-on experience with the material and emphasize the importance of working in an engineering team, a group project may be required for this course.
Supply chain operations management
This course examines the chain of product production and explains the roles that manufacturing engineers, product suppliers, warehouse personnel, distributors and retailers play in producing products from conception to a store shelf. Topics covered in the class include customer service, the importance of adhering to a production schedule and the flow of materials in the supply chain.
In addition, students in these programs may also take classes in subjects such as experimental design, reliability engineering, composites manufacturing and CAD/CAM.
In order to finish their degrees, undergraduate students in online manufacturing degree programs may be expected to complete a project or participate in an internship. On the graduate level, students may be required to complete a comprehensive examination, a thesis or dissertation or an original research project.
Interview With a Manufacturing Engineering Professor
Timothy W. Simpson, Ph.D., is a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and engineering design at Pennsylvania State University. In this interview, Simpson discusses how students can be successful in manufacturing engineering degree programs and get the preparation they need to pursue a career in this rewarding and challenging field.
What are the skills, interests and personality traits necessary for a student to be successful in a manufacturing engineering program?
"You need more than 'book smarts' to be good in manufacturing engineering. Students must be comfortable working with their hands, learning how to solve problems on the fly and adapting to the situation at hand. Rarely does a design project or production run go as planned or smooth as they say in the textbooks. Every day brings a new challenge. Students need to be outgoing, flexible and innately curious to explore and find opportunities outside of the classroom to design, develop and make things so that they gain experience and have practice working in a manufacturing environment. Students must be good at translating what they learn in the classroom into practical application, and design projects (freshmen through capstone) and team-based design/build activities (e.g., SAE Formula car, Eco-marathon, etc.) are great ways of learning how to do that. Finally, students need to be comfortable and confident using machine tools and equipment to make things. This keeps them safe and enables them to manufacture and deliver high-quality products and devices."
What is the most rewarding part of a career in the manufacturing engineering field? Why should students pursue a career in this field?
"For me, the most rewarding thing about manufacturing is seeing your ideas come to life -- literally. Having an idea and designing it on the computer is great, but buying parts, making parts and assembling them all together into a working physical device is a very rewarding experience, especially when you have been engaged in one or more aspects of the process. Designing something on the computer is one thing, making it into something physical and real is an entirely different ballgame and something that we don't emphasize enough in our manufacturing engineering programs. For example, 3D printing is helping change that as we can now 'make' in the classroom and reinforce students' learning and infuse that sense of excitement and accomplishment."
What advice would you give to students who are considering earning a degree in manufacturing engineering?
"Manufacturing is very different today than in the past. The impression that manufacturing is 'dumb, dirty and dying' is completely wrong. Manufacturing is one of the most high-tech, demanding and rewarding careers out there now. It is critical to the prosperity and security of our nation, and companies are craving well-trained engineers to go into manufacturing. We can't train them quickly enough! So my advice is, find ways to take advantage of 'making' opportunities in middle and high school and outside of school. Ask your college or university about the hands-on making and manufacturing opportunities that are available to its students. You shouldn't have to wait until senior year in college to touch a 3D printer -- get engaged early and maybe even purchase your own 3D printer given how cheap they are these days. This will help you learn the basics of transforming a design on the computer into a real physical object, and the rest of what you learn in manufacturing builds off that, enabling faster, better and cheaper production methods. It's an exciting time for manufacturing, and I would encourage students to find teachers, faculty and peers that are already engaged in these activities and get involved with what they are doing so that you can find your passion and the best way to pursue it."
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