By Jim Girouard
Having spent over 30 years as a manufacturing engineer, this question has always perplexed me. Is there a difference between a Manufacturing Engineer (MFE) and an Advanced Manufacturing Engineer (AMFE)? Is one applying the ways of the future, while the other is locked in the Iron Age? Should every MFE strive to become an AMFE? Is one superior to the other?
At the start of my career as an MFE, we told the difference between MFEs and AMFEs by where they worked. The MFEs were on the factory floor, and the AMFEs were in the offices. There was always a bit of a culture clash, with the AMFEs dressed a little finer and their clean, well-groomed fingernails. We MFEs, on the other hand, were given away by our safety shoes and glasses perched on our heads. We were jokingly asked if we all used the same cologne: “Eau de Cutting Fluid”!
As manufacturing engineers, our daily jobs involved laying out the factory floor, selecting and programming machine centers, designing tooling, creating process charts and generally keeping the gears turning and the fluids flowing. We knew our process’s capabilities and took pride in turning skids of raw materials into shiny finished products on an ever-hectic schedule. We lived “where the rubber meets the road.” The AMFEs breathed more rarefied air. They concentrated on working with the design engineers to imbue “manufacturability” into the components. They made decisions like whether a product should be manufactured in “Plant A” or “Plant B” and wrote great papers on new strategies the company should adopt. Our days could not have been more different.
It was only when the company went through a serious shake-up that we realized both sides had something important in common: we each needed the skills the other side had.
The MFEs intrinsically knew the myriad of variables that were at play in a manufacturing operation. Process capability, material variability, the impact of seasonal temperature and humidity changes, lot-to-lot variation, tool wear, etc. But the AMFEs readily related to statistical process control, inspection and test data collection, computer modeling, and life testing. They devoured trade journals and white papers on the latest manufacturing technologies and were comfortable working with design engineers, project managers, financial analysts and other decision drivers in the company. We had the pragmatism, and they had the cutting-edge knowledge and ear of leadership.
How did we bridge the divide? We learned to draw from both AMFE and MFE experiences to truly blend both theory and practice. MFEs gained a new appreciation of mathematics through education and professional development on SPC, data analysis, and computer modeling. AMFEs went to work at the contract manufacturers and finally got their fingernails dirty. Those who wouldn’t expand their minds to explore the other side of manufacturing had to move on: a lesson in the importance of staying adaptable and open-minded in your career!
Over these last decades, the world of manufacturing has changed dramatically. With terms like additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, biotechnology and sustainability entering our lexicon, the manufacturing revolution will only accelerate! Manufacturing engineers (of all stripes) must keep abreast of new technologies and continuously improve their knowledge and understanding of the latest methodologies.
My advice to all manufacturing engineers? Keep your mind sharp, and your fingernails dirty!
♥ Love this post? Subscribe to Catalyst.
About the Author
Jim Girouard is a Senior Project Development Manager at WPI. Prior to joining WPI, Jim has over 30 years of experience in manufacturing engineering and managerial roles in the high technology sector, most recently as Vice President for Manufacturing, Engineering and Test at THAT Corporation, a local analog semiconductor company. Self-described as a life-long learner, Jim holds a BS in Civil Engineering, an MBA, a graduate certificate in Power Systems and a Process Improvement Certificate, all from WPI.