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An overview of the manufacturing industry

Manufacturing engineering: industry sector overview

Engineers in the manufacturing industry could work in areas such as design, production, supply chain or logistics.

Manufacturing is the process of adding value to raw materials by turning them into products: electrical goods, vehicles, aircraft, food, beverages, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and so on.

Engineers working in the manufacturing business are responsible for the safe and efficient planning, management and maintenance of production methods and processes. Typical areas of work include:

  • Research: this involves exploring new concepts or materials for products as well as making incremental improvements to existing products. Research engineers also try to find the next big thing that will give their organisation the edge in the market, by introducing ideas for an improved product or innovating a new, advanced process.
  • Design: engineers design products with consideration of what the customer wants and the specialist processes needed to manufacture them. Increasingly designers must consider the ‘whole life’ of the product and review how the product will be disposed of at the end of its life.
  • Development: the development process involves taking a product design or prototype and making it into a manufacturable product. Development engineers consider the scale of production (volume), availability of materials (and their cost), production safety, lead times, quality and overall cost.
  • Production: production engineers optimise manufacturing processes for safety and efficiency. It involves managing production teams, maintaining schedules, dealing with health, safety and environmental (SHE) hazards and troubleshooting production line issues.
  • Quality assurance: manufacturing organisations have strict quality controls and will adhere to a system. Engineers working in this area design and review quality systems, instruct and supervise staff and develop and carry out quality assurance tests on products.

Engineers in manufacturing can also apply their skills in commercial roles such as marketing, supply chain, operations management, logistics, and sales and after-sales service.

Trends and developments in the UK manufacturing industry

The UK manufacturing business is diverse but shows particular strength in aerospace, high tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and food and fast moving consumer goods production. Despite the economic troubles, the UK still has a significant car manufacturing industry – BMW, Honda and Toyota have high-class manufacturing facilities here. The industry also comprises many smaller component producers and manufacturing technology organisations. The latter produce processing equipment, machining technology and tooling for the sector.

UK manufacturing businesses have had to adapt significantly in recent years to compete in the world market. ‘Low cost centres’ such as Eastern Europe and China, where labour rates are much lower than in the UK, have challenged manufacturing businesses to improve productivity and have sparked innovation within the sector. UK manufacturers have to be smart to keep a competitive edge. On top of the challenges of low-cost competition, UK manufacturers also contend with strict environmental targets set by the government in line with agreements such as the Kyoto treaty.

Getting a graduate job in manufacturing engineering

The key engineering disciplines sought by manufacturing employers are mechanical, manufacturing, electrical, chemical/process, materials, control and instrumentation, and environmental. However, engineers from other backgrounds may well find good job opportunities in this sector. In recent years, graduate engineering employers have lamented a shortage of graduate engineers from manufacturing engineering degrees.

Employers look for graduates who have a strong grounding in their discipline and combine their technical knowledge with core competences such as good communication skills, teamworking and problem-solving ability, energy, commercial awareness and an ability to think on their feet.

What to expect from a graduate job in manufacturing

In larger organisations engineering graduates typically join a graduate programme. They may work in one area, for example production, or, depending on the employer, they may complete placements in different parts of the business. Some employers have specialist programmes for functions such as supply chain or operations management.

However you start out, employers will most likely provide you with training and experience that will help you achieve chartered or incorporated engineer status.

If you start out in a smaller manufacturing company your training may be less structured. However, smaller organisations can provide fantastic opportunities to gain experience in a range of manufacturing activities.

Progression will depend on your own ambitions. You may choose to progress on a technical, management or commercial path.

The highlights of a career in manufacturing

  • Manufacturing organisations produce tangible goods so you’ll see the results of your work.
  • This area of engineering presents problems that need practical solutions.
  • The manufacturing business provides many opportunities to work in the more commercial areas of an engineering organisation.
  • It’s an increasingly global business and you may find yourself travelling to facilities all around the world.

The manufacturing industry seeks graduates in...

  • aerospace/aeronautical
  • automotive
  • chemical/process
  • control
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • materials
  • mechanical
  • power systems

Always check individual employers' requirements.

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