Use your engineering skills to improve manufacturing processes and ensure that goods such as pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and plastics are produced efficiently and cost-effectively

As a manufacturing engineer, you will have a high level of technical expertise and skill, which you'll use to plan, design, set up, modify, optimise and monitor manufacturing processes.

Since the basic principles of manufacturing engineering apply to all industries, you can work in numerous sectors, including:

  • biotechnology
  • food and drink
  • oil
  • pharmaceuticals
  • plastics.

Your work will involve improving the process of producing high-quality goods efficiently using the most cost-effective methods and with the aim of reducing the impact of production on the environment.

Manufacturing engineers are designers, as well as analytical and creative thinkers. This means you can operate on your own initiative but also contribute as a team member working with engineers from various disciplines.

Responsibilities

As a manufacturing engineer, you'll need to:

  • design new systems, equipment and processes for the introduction of new products or for the improvement of existing ones
  • work with other engineers, such as chemical, mechanical and electrical engineers, to ensure all product and system requirements are taken into account from the initial product conception to the finished result
  • examine, tender for and install new equipment, making sure you get the highest quality at the best price
  • liaise with suppliers and customers
  • plan and organise maintenance of equipment
  • identify faults, investigate production problems and repair equipment quickly and efficiently
  • improve current operations wherever possible
  • supervise junior engineers and sub-contractors and ensure effective communication in order to avoid errors
  • organise plant start-up and shut-down schedules to ensure minimum loss of production time and profits
  • keep statistical and financial records and work with finance professionals to manage budgets
  • liaise with research and development staff to ensure the company is at the forefront of ground-breaking research
  • keep up to date with current and developing trends in the manufacturing industry, at a national and international level.

Salary

  • Manufacturing engineers can expect to start on salaries in the region of £22,000 to £28,000.
  • With experience your salary can range from £25,000 to £40,000.
  • Chartered engineers earn salaries in the region of £40,000 to £60,000.

There's scope to earn a higher salary in very senior executive positions.

Chartered engineers may work on a consultancy basis and charge the company an hourly rate.

Salary levels vary according to the industry, location and size of the organisation you work for.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Most companies operate a shift system. Working hours may include regular unsocial hours, including weekend and evening work. You may have to work extra hours, particularly at times when a new process is being installed and tested.

Career breaks are possible but the speed of technological change means that you should keep up to date with the profession or you may not be able to re-enter at the same level. Some employers run career break schemes, which allow jobs to be kept open.

What to expect

  • Manufacturing plants must adhere to strict health and safety rules and environmental policies.
  • Jobs are available both in traditional industrial areas and in newer industrial estates, in most parts of the UK.
  • Dress code can vary from smart casual in the office to protective clothing and equipment at the installation stage.
  • Women are under-represented in engineering but there are initiatives in place to try and encourage more women into the industry, such as WISE and the Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • You may need to travel for training purposes and if your company has plants at other locations, either nationally or internationally.

Qualifications

To become a manufacturing engineer you'll typically need a degree in engineering. The following engineering degree subjects are particularly relevant:

  • chemical engineering
  • electrical/electronic engineering
  • manufacturing or production engineering
  • mechanical engineering.

Although you don't need a Masters degree, having a relevant Masters in engineering, an engineering doctorate (EngD) or an integrated MEng degree can enhance your prospects.

It's also possible to enter at a trainee level with an engineering HNC, HND or foundation degree. With experience and further qualifications, you'll then be able to progress to more senior roles.

Having a qualification accredited by a relevant body such as The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) can help you to achieve incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng) status later on in your career. Details of accredited courses are available at the Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

It's also possible to take an advanced manufacturing engineering apprenticeship. As part of the apprenticeship, you'll complete a Level 4 NVQ in engineering leadership and will take a relevant HNC, HND or foundation degree, which could lead to progression to an honours degree in engineering technology.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • knowledge of a range of engineering functions and procedures
  • a practical and logical approach to problem-solving
  • interpersonal, presentation and communication skills
  • team working and people management skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure and take on new challenges
  • organisation and time management skills
  • project management skills and the ability to work to tight deadlines
  • commercial awareness
  • an awareness of health and safety issues.

Any previous work experience or activities at university that demonstrate these skills will be useful.

Work experience

Summer work placements or internships in the manufacturing industry will increase your chances of gaining employment upon graduation. Check with your careers service and look on the websites of engineering companies for details of opportunities.

Some degree courses offer a year in industry, which is useful for finding out what the career will be like, as well as for making good contacts for future job opportunities. This type of experience will provide evidence of skill development and commercial awareness.

Student membership with a relevant professional body such as the IET or IMechE will help you keep up to date with news and developments in the industry. This will show your interest in, and enthusiasm for, the manufacturing sector at interviews.

Employers

Manufacturing engineers can be employed in any industry that has an end product. You can find opportunities in:

  • aerospace
  • automotive
  • biotechnology
  • clothing
  • food and drink
  • oil refinery
  • pharmaceutical
  • plant and machinery manufacture
  • plastics.

Employers range from small local operations to large multinational organisations with plants and operations all over the world. Central and local government also employ manufacturing engineers, as do the armed forces and utility companies.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies.

Professional development

Structured graduate training programmes are offered by many of the large engineering firms. These programmes provide the opportunity to gain experience in different departments of the firm, while at the same time developing an understanding and appreciation of the day-to-day running of the business.

Companies may also offer in-house training programmes delivered by experienced employees or specialist training companies.

All training provided is usually designed to meet the requirements of the relevant engineering professional bodies. These include:

These professional bodies run their own continuing professional development (CPD) programmes.

You're likely to work towards gaining chartered engineer status (CEng), which is an internationally-recognised qualification awarded by the Engineering Council. It can help your career progression and allow for higher earning potential. You'll need to be a member of a relevant professional body and will apply through them for professional registration.

The process of becoming chartered is more straightforward if you've got an accredited Bachelors degree and a Masters or an accredited integrated MEng degree. You'll also need to demonstrate that you have the required professional competences and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). More details about the process can be found at Engineering Council - Chartered Engineer.

Some employers will offer to support you for a part-time MSc in a relevant subject.

Career prospects

Career development will depend to a certain extent on the structure of the company you work for, as well as the organisational culture, size and nature of the business.

Before achieving chartered status, you'll gain experience on numerous manufacturing processes, from the design stage through to installation. Ideally, you will be exposed to the various departments within your organisation and get in-house and on-site work experience.

You may progress to another company to gain more experience and exposure to different manufacturing industries. You could also take on training and supervision of more junior engineers. There may also be opportunities to progress into engineering or manufacturing management or into general management, marketing or sales.

It's possible to become a project manager or to specialise in a particular area and concentrate on research and development. You could also specialise and progress into a related area such as plant/production engineering, environmental engineering or health and safety.

With substantial experience you could become a partner in an engineering firm or become self-employed as a consultant.