I’ve worked as a mechanical engineer in the consumer products industry for most of my career. If you have no idea what this means, you’re not alone. When people think of engineers, they often think of people who design motors or air conditioning systems. When I tell people I work in production, they often think I must be tinkering with machines all day long. While I can certainly handle this job as well as anyone else, it’s definitely not the task I’m most qualified for.
Engineers like me love to deal with complicated problems. When I was in engineering school, I spent hours looking at complicated lists of numbers and I tried to find patterns. I learned how to run studies to find inefficiencies. I developed complicated mathematical models to explain common phenomena. I can put all of these skills to use in the consumer products industry.
Picture this: A company runs a production line that makes television dinners. Those dinners come down the line at 5 per minute, for example, and they’re all covered with a sticky film so they don’t spoil. As an engineer, I could look for other films to use to cover those dinners. Maybe I can find something that seals tighter or quicker, and that might allow me to speed up production to 8 dinners per minute without sacrificing one iota of quality. This would be a remarkable savings over time.
Or to give another example: Perhaps a worker must pick up an item, turn to the left by 30 degrees, put the item down and then return to the forward-facing position. I know, by looking at mathematical models, that twist takes up hours of that worker’s day and I could improve that worker’s productivity by double or more if I realigned the machine so no twisting was needed. I might also save the company on health insurance costs, since the worker won’t be prone to back pain under the new system.
This sort of thinking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, I know, and sometimes I can make my family members and friends crazy with my endless modeling and sketching. But the companies I work for never complain about my results. The work I’ve done has saved my company literally thousands of dollars each year, and I’ve often helped my coworkers stay healthier on the job. It’s work I’m proud to do.
Donald Leon Farrow began working as an engineer in manufacturing in the 1980s. Donald Leon Farrow was recently promoted to Director of Engineering for his current company, and he’s also opened up a consulting firm to provide project management assistance to consumer products companies.