Manufacturing & industrial engineers offer creative solutions in every industry
Degrees in manufacturing and industrial engineering, plus the super-versatile ME, qualify their holders for a wide variety of interesting jobs in manufacturing settings
With so many companies going global, recruiters are looking for diverse techies who can work with different languages and cultures as well as products and industries
By Claire Swedberg
Manufacturing, mechanical and industrial engineers are needed to provide creative solutions in every industry, and diversity is becoming more and more of a priority.
At heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere (Moline, IL), for example, director of global team enrichment Laurie Simpson says the company sees a direct correlation between staff diversity and a climate of creativity and innovation. So John Deere is working to attract, develop and retain talent from many backgrounds.
Deere & Co began in 1837 as a one-man blacksmith shop. Today it’s a corporation that does business worldwide and employs about 52,000 people. “We want to maximize diversity within an inclusive work environment that capitalizes on our differences,” Simpson says. The differences drive high performance as well as helping individuals realize their highest potential, she explains.
Chris Lewis is a Deere product development engineer
In 1997 Chris Lewis moved to a job as a product development engineer at a new John Deere plant for commercial mowers in Fuquay-Varina, NC. He began by helping transfer product line from outside manufacturers to the new plant.
Today he works with manufacturing engineers, supply management, marketing, production
line employees and customers. The work, he says, “did and still does get me onto the manufacturing floor,” overseeing the building of three-wheel mowers for golf courses and
If neither the dealer nor John Deere’s dealer technical assistance center can solve a customer’s problem, it goes to Lewis or another design engineer to work on. And if Lewis can’t solve the problem long-distance he’ll go out to the customer’s place to tackle it.
“You have to have a mechanical aptitude,” Lewis says. “You have to be hands-on, willing to get out in the field and get your hands dirty, and you have to be flexible, to go from one thing to the next.”
Fortunately, “We have a lot of people who can help solve a problem,” he adds. Some of his colleagues at John Deere have more than thirty years experience. “And if one person can’t answer the question we keep on asking until we find someone who can.”
Lewis began his career with a 1992 BSME from Penn State University-State College. At first he was interested in aerospace engineering but he decided to keep his skill sets broader.
That was the right choice, because he found his first job in electronics at Raychem Corp (now Tyco Electronics, Fuquay-Varina, NC). He was brought in as a manufacturing engineer and found himself undertaking process development, establishing new methods for processing and doing some training and equipment purchasing.
In any position, Lewis advises, “You have to have an idea what you want from a company. Set goals and work toward them. You can’t be complacent.”
In that effort, Lewis earned a 2005 MS in manufacturing systems engineering at North Carolina State University. He’s now working on an on-line MBA from Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) and hopes to get into project management.
Robert Harris manages a Harley-Davidson plant
Product plant manager Robert Harris of Harley-Davidson Motor Co (Milwaukee, WI) completed his BSME at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in 1993. His first job was as a production supervisor at the Livonia, MI transmission plant of Ford Motor Co (Dearborn, MI).
“As I worked there, I realized my passion for fast-paced environments that thrive on a sense of urgency and present new and exciting challenges each and every day.” On this job Harris got feedback about his work from every shift. “I like getting these real-time results so I know if I’m succeeding at my tasks, or if I need to adjust to better meet my goals,” he says.
“Most important for me is the interaction with people. You build great relationships with the people you work with, as you work together to meet your daily and annual goals. I really value this teamwork.”
Later he went back to school for a 2000 MBA from the University of Michigan. And in 2002 Harley-Davidson Motor Co brought him in as process lead. It was his job to manage daily operations in the Softail assembly and plated components area at the Harley-Davidson York vehicle operations plant (York, PA).
In 2005 he was promoted to product plant manager of the company’s Capitol Drive Powertrain operations (Wauwatosa, WI). The plant, he says, produces middleweight engines for the Harley-Davidson Kansas City Vehicle and Powertrain Ops and for Buell Motorcycle Co.
As product plant manager, Harris is responsible for managing daily operations at the Capitol Drive facility. He also manages the plant’s $100 million budget, and must make sure that everyone there meets the company’s metrics for safety, quality, cost and productivity.
The ultimate goal, he notes, is “providing customers with a top-quality product.” This involves “working well in an environment that is fast-paced and requires a sense of urgency.”
While technical skills are essential at the beginning of an engineer’s career, “Now I mostly use my leadership skills to help achieve our goals. These are vital and help drive my effectiveness as a manager; you always have to look for ways to drive excellence into the operations through continuous improvement.”
Just as important, he adds, is “the ability to build effective relationships and inspire employees to achieve their best. You build great relationships with the people you work with to meet your daily and annual goals, and I really value this teamwork.”
Diane Bradley is a supplier commodity engineer at Toyota
Diane Bradley applies her engineering skills in the automotive industry. She’s a supplier commodity engineering specialist at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (Erlanger, KY).
Bradley got interested in engineering in high school. She earned her 1999 BS in industrial and systems engineering at Ohio State University after interning for General Motors. When she graduated she worked briefly for Chrysler as a quality engineer, but soon moved to Toyota. “They were the innovators; they were at the forefront,” she says.
She began at Toyota as a product engineer in plastics, responsible for the product development of injection molded parts designed in Japan and Ann Arbor, MI.
The job had a lot of fascinating detail. Bradley was provided with the mathematical data for part design, from which a mold vendor cut and tested each die. The adjustment and trials might be repeated five or ten times before the part was ready for production. The work required a large amount of travel to vendors around the country and overseas.
In 2004 Bradley transferred to supplier commodity engineering. Now she works with suppliers, assessing their degree of technical risk and their ability to meet Toyota standards and requirements.
This position, too, involves considerable travel, and she likes that. “My goal is to travel all around the world,” she says. She also notes that her work demands a willingness to learn. “You have to be curious about the things you don’t know. When you’re intrigued, you learn.”
John Louis is a lead engineer at BSFB
In 2005 ME John Louis moved to Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake (BSFB, Elyria, OH) to work as a slack-adjuster engineer. BSFB is a joint venture formed in 2004 to combine the wheel-end foundation brake technologies of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC and the Dana Corp. BSFB’s products are part of the Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems line of air brakes and other safety systems for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles.
The slack adjuster, Louis explains, is a vital mechanism in any airbrake system. It converts pressure to mechanical force to stop the vehicle.
Last year automatic slack adjusters became mandatory in India. Louis became lead engineer on a project to provide BSFB products to a major truck manufacturer there, traveling to and from Pune, one of India’s major cities. He believes he was particularly well-suited to the job because he combines an Indian background with appropriate technical expertise.
Louis received his BSME from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT, Madras, India) in 1976. He went to work at Tata Engineering as a quality engineer, moving through several rotations to learn the automotive manufacturing process.
He returned to IIT for a 1980 MS in industrial management, then worked for the Eicher Tractor Corp of India as a quality engineer. Later he monitored the performance of tractors in the field, working with product engineering and training technicians.
In 1987 Louis joined Ashok Leyland (Madras, India), a truck and bus manufacturer, where he helped start a new technical center to test truck prototypes. He analyzed vehicle performance issues and investigated failure analyses. In 1993 he became design manager.
In 1998 he decided to move to Canada. He found a job at International/Navstar (Chatham, ON, Canada) as a project engineer, overseeing design and development of severe-service trucks for construction, logging and other industries. He worked on the introduction of catalytic converters to make the trucks compliant with the emissions requirements that went into effect in October 2002.
In 2005 Louis took his experience to the U.S. to work for BSFB. He’s currently working on brake systems for commercial vehicles in Russia. He explains that he enjoys “getting exposure to different operating environments.
“I’m always willing to go back to the books and get to the basics again for whatever it is I’m doing. I try to keep learning.”
Elizabeth Assefa assesses manufacturing risk at FM Global
In 2001 Elizabeth Assefa started at the Los Angeles location of FM Global (Johnston, RI), the worldwide commercial insurance company, as a senior consulting engineer. Her job was to conduct onsite loss-prevention evaluations to identify potential risks caused by physical, human, natural and equipment hazards. Her work involved many elements of industrial engineering. Today she’s an account engineer at the company’s Park Ridge, IL office, one of more than fifty around the world.
When she first heard about the job, she wondered what kind of career path there could be for her at FM Global. “I didn’t really understand why an insurance company would be hiring engineers,” she recalls with a laugh. In fact, FM Global employs more than 1,500 loss prevention engineers, more than 30 percent of its staff, to assess risks for its clients. The company’s philosophy is that the majority of loss is preventable, not inevitable; its clients include a third of the Fortune 1000 companies.
Assefa was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is now a naturalized citizen of the U.S. She earned her 1993 BSChE at California Polytechnic State University (Pomona, CA).
Her first job was as a chemist at Crown City Plating Co (El Monte, CA), where she did R&D in metal and plastic finishing, worked on plating problems, optimized procedures and made chemical and wastewater analyses.
In 1995 she became a supervising lab analyst for the City of Redlands, CA. Then she moved to the San Joaquin Valley air control district as an air quality engineer, acting as liaison among industry, the public, and other regulatory agencies.
In her work for FM Global, Assefa discovers and analyzes property risks and their potential business impact. She reviews construction and fire protection plans to be sure they coincide with FM Global’s standards. The company, she notes, bases its standards on more than 170 years of loss prevention research and engineering.
Since 2006 she’s worked on an account-wide and corporate basis, analyzing the nature of a customer’s business and the risks involved. She evaluates and assesses the nature, probability and magnitude of loss potential, prioritizes exposures, recommends solutions and follows up on implementing the needed changes.
Assefa enjoys the challenge of the work. She travels to client sites, and must understand many different industries in detail to allow her to recognize risks and their potential impact on a client’s business. The work takes her around the world.
“I’m very happy and fulfilled by what I’m doing,” she says.
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer who lives in La Conner, WA.
OPPORTUNITIES IN MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
|Advanced Micro Devices
|Microprocessors and media solutions for computer, communications and electronics
|Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems
|Commercial vehicle safety systems
|Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake LLC
|Commercial brake system research, design, manufacturing, hardware and support
(Auburn Hills, MI)
|Cars, trucks, parts and accessories;
|Deere & Company
|Agricultural, commercial and consumer, construction and forestry equipment
|Agriculture and food, building and construction, communications, transportation
|Insurance and risk assessment for industrial and commercial clients
|Harley-Davidson Motor Co
|Equipment for IC manufacturing lines
|Nissan North America
|Cars and trucks
|Pharmaceuticals and research
|Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America
|Automobiles and trucks
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