Roles in Manufacturing: Engineers

A detailed explanation of the duties, responsibilities, and education levels of engineering staff in a manufacturing facility.

Hello again đź‘‹.

Welcome back to the Roles in Manufacturing series where I am giving you an introduction to the different job roles that exist in manufacturing companies.

In the previous parts of the series, I introduced you to the role of maintenance staff in a manufacturing company.

In this part of the series, we will learn what engineering staff do in a manufacturing plant and what training or education is required to work as a part of the engineering team.

Before we move on, I would like to take a moment to introduce myself to anyone who might be new to the blog.

My name is Ken Bourke and I have worked as an automation professional for almost a decade. During this time, I have worked on large global projects in different industries around the world.

In the last year, I have started producing content online to share my knowledge through free blog posts and free or very reasonably priced courses.

If you get some value out of this post then consider checking out my courses, joining the mailing list using the form at the bottom of this page, or, if you’re feeling very generous, buying me a coffee using the Buy Me a Coffee widget on this page.

With that bit of shameless self-promotion out of the way, let’s get back to talking about engineers in manufacturing facilities.


We’ve already established that operators are responsible for running machines and maintenance staff is responsible for preventing and reacting to machine breakdowns.

But who designs the machines and production lines that the operators and maintenance staff work on?

This design work is done by engineers. Every aspect of a production facility is designed by a team of engineers with different specializations.

Mechanical engineers design all of the moving parts such as motion systems, robotics, and conveyors.

Electrical engineers choose the electrical components and design the architecture that ensures that those components have the correct power supply and connection.

Controls engineers write and test the software that is used to control the equipment designed by the mechanical and electrical engineers.

Finally, manufacturing engineers, sometimes known as production engineers, are responsible for the actual process that happens in a given machine.

These engineers work together to design, develop, test, and improve machinery that is used in manufacturing facilities.

Historically, most manufacturing companies had these engineers on staff but in recent years, many companies have outsourced their engineering capabilities to Original Equipment Manufacturers, also called OEMs, and System Integrators, also called SIs.

For example, when I worked as a controls engineer, I did not work for a factory directly. Instead, I worked for a system integrator that supplied equipment to factories. None of the factory staff had a controls engineering competency so they had to rent those skills from my company.

It's worth noting that some large companies don’t follow this trend. If a company really values engineering skills then it will at least keep a corporate engineering team that makes engineering decisions for sites around the world.

For example, when I did projects for Amazon, I had regular meeting with Amazon’s European controls engineering team. Although they did not do the engineering work themselves, they directed the decisions that my company made and specified how certain tasks should be done and what equipment we were allowed to use in a project.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Since the responsibilities of engineers are so varied, it is hard to define exactly what the KPIs of a typical engineer is.

Engineers are usually responsible for designing new systems according to specifications, implementing those systems based on a design, and then testing and verifying that the system has been implemented correctly.

Engineers may also be the next point of escalation for maintenance staff that can’t figure out why a specific machine isn’t working.

As you can tell from these responsibilities, the KPIs for an engineer could be almost any metric within a manufacturing facility. Some engineers might have a KPI based on yield or quality which is measure of how many good parts are produced relative to the number of bad parts produced. They may also have a KPI based on how efficiently a production line is running.

Manufacturing engineers are often responsible for improving the functionality of existing systems by executing continuous improvement projects. These engineers may have KPIs based on the outcomes of those continuous improvement projects such as the percentage increase of products produced, the percentage decrease of process time, or the percentage increase in reliability of a piece of equipment.

Education and Training

Most engineers who work with automated systems have a bachelor’s degree in electrical or mechanical engineering.

Not many engineering schools put an emphasis on industrial automation, so engineers often learn the practical skills that they need on the job.

For example, my university didn’t offer a degree in controls engineering or industrial automation so I am educated as a manufacturing engineer and after getting my degree, I retrained as a controls engineer.

In general, engineers are problem solvers. Regardless of education, to work as an engineer someone should enjoy problem-solving, learning, and working as part of a team.

Wrap Up

In this post, I introduced you to engineers in a manufacturing facility as part of my Roles in Manufacturing series.

I explained what engineers do, what their KPIs are, and what education and training is usually required to get a job as an engineer.

In the next part of the series, I’ll introduce you to the operations manager. This is the person who is responsible for overseeing the manufacturing process in a facility.

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