Manufacturing engineers have a high level of technical expertise and skill, which they use to plan, design, set up, modify, optimise and monitor manufacturing processes.

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

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

The work involves 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. They can operate on their own initiative but also contribute as a team member working with engineers from various disciplines.

They work with other professionals, in areas such as finance and health and safety.

Responsibilities

Responsibilities may vary depending on the sector and organisation but are likely to include:

  • designing new systems and processes for the introduction of new products or for the improvement of existing ones;
  • working 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;
  • working with other professionals, such as accountants and human resources personnel, to manage budgets and the recruitment of junior engineers;
  • examining and tendering for new equipment to ensure the highest quality at the best price;
  • supervising junior engineers and sub-contractors and ensuring effective communication in order to avoid errors;
  • organising plant start-up and shut-down schedules to ensure minimum loss of production time and profits;
  • liaising with the research and development department to ensure the company is at the forefront of ground-breaking research;
  • keeping up to date with current and developing trends in the manufacturing industry, at a national and international level;
  • attending training courses and conferences - the engineer should always participate in continuing professional development (CPD) programmes affiliated to their professional body.

Salary

  • Manufacturing engineers can expect to start on salaries in the region of £22,000 to £28,000.
  • With experience this can rise to £25,000 to £40,000 depending on the level of expertise.
  • Chartered engineers can earn salaries ranging from £40,000 to £60,000.

There is scope to earn a much higher salary with very senior executive positions bearing considerable responsibility.

Many chartered engineers may work on a consultancy basis and therefore charge the company an hourly rate.

As with all professions, salary levels vary according to industry, location, size of the organisation and the nature of its business.

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 be required 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 do allow jobs to be kept open.

What to expect

  • Manufacturing plants must adhere to strict health and safety rules and environmental policies, therefore the well-being of the employee is paramount.
  • 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 place to try and encourage more women into the industry, such as WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • Jobs are available both in traditional industrial areas and in newer industrial estates in most parts of the UK.
  • The company may have a sister or parent plant at other locations, either nationally or internationally, and travel may be necessary for training purposes.

Qualifications

To become a manufacturing engineer you will typically be required to have a degree. While any engineering subject will be relevant, the following are particularly helpful:

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

You may also be able to enter the career at a trainee level with an engineering HND or foundation degree. With experience and further qualifications you will then be able to progress to more senior roles.

You do not need to have a Masters to become a mechanical engineer but it may be useful, especially if your first degree is in an unrelated subject.

Degrees and Masters that are accredited by professional bodies are available, which can help you to achieve the status of chartered engineer later on in your career. Relevant organisations include:

Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

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

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to understand a range of engineering functions and procedures;
  • a practical and logical approach to problem-solving;
  • interpersonal, presentation and communication skills;
  • teamworking and people management skills;
  • the capacity 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;
  • an awareness of health and safety issues.

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

Work experience

In addition to your qualification, summer work experience or internships in the manufacturing industry will enhance your prospects of gaining full-time employment upon graduation.

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 will range from small local operations to large multinational organisations with plants and operations all over the world.

Typically, the food and drink industry, together with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, employ the largest numbers.

Government, both local and central, also employs manufacturing engineers in areas such as the armed forces and utility companies.

Look for job vacancies at:

It is common for specialist recruitment agencies to handle vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Structured-graduate training programmes are offered by many engineering firms to new engineering graduates. These programmes are invaluable to recently qualified engineers as they allow you to gain experience in different departments of the company, while gaining an understanding and appreciation of the day-to-day running of the organisation.

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

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

It is likely that you will work towards gaining chartered engineer status (CEng), which is an internationally recognised qualification awarded by the Engineering Council. It can aid career progression and allow for higher earning potential.

You will need to be a member of a professional institution, such as the IET, IMechE or IChemE, to be able to apply through them for professional registration.

The process of becoming chartered is more straightforward if you have an accredited bachelors degree, along with a Masters or an accredited integrated MEng degree. You will 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.

You will be encouraged to join a relevant professional body. The professional bodies run their own continuing professional development (CPD) training programmes throughout the year and in various locations. Members usually enjoy reduced rates for completing such training.

Some employers will offer opportunities to study for a part-time MSc in a relevant subject.

Career prospects

Career development will depend on your aspirations and the structure of the organisation in which you work. The organisational culture, size and nature of the business will also influence career development.

Before achieving chartered status, you will gain experience on numerous manufacturing processes, from the design stage through to installation. Ideally you will be exposed to the various departments within the 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.

Opportunities to progress into engineering or manufacturing management or into general management, marketing or sales may be available.

It is possible to become a project manager or to specialise in a particular area and concentrate on research and development.

You could specialise and progress into a different role such as an environmental engineer or a health and safety expert.

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