The Changing Role of the Plant Engineer

If the landscape of manufacturing is confusing to some, the man in charge of the plant floor can see clearly to the horizon. You can call that man plant engineer or plant manager or vice-president of manufacturing or any of a dozen other titles. The role of the plant engineer in an efficient, effective, safe and productive manufacturing process is undeniable.

11/15/2007


If the landscape of manufacturing is confusing to some, the man in charge of the plant floor can see clearly to the horizon.

You can call that man plant engineer or plant manager or vice-president of manufacturing or any of a dozen other titles. The role of the plant engineer in an efficient, effective, safe and productive manufacturing process is undeniable.

The plant engineer is the person who takes the production process and the production staff through the maze of automation and consolidation, outsourcing and downsizing. His leadership role in manufacturing is unquestioned, and it is a role that has become more critical to the success of manufacturing as a function and as a business.

What was once a tactical role %%MDASSML%% fixing and maintaining equipment and riding herd over the production process %%MDASSML%% has evolved into a strategic role, with responsibilities toward a corporate bottom line and a collaborative approach to manufacturing that involves every aspect of the enterprise. They must be innovators.

Survey said

PLANT ENGINEERING ’s exclusive study, “The Changing Role of the Plant Engineer” discovered a plant manager who understands the challenges faced on both the plant floor and in the enterprise. The study, co-sponsored by IBM, asked PLANT ENGINEERING readers in plants of all sizes what they see as their challenges and opportunities in the coming three years. We benchmarked those results against past studies in the “Changing Role” series, and found that most of the predictions of the past have come true.

There were several key findings in the study:

  • The plant-floor leadership, by whatever title, plays a crucial business role in the specification and deployment of technology

  • That crucial role is growing

  • The greatest challenge these professionals face is the inability to replace a shrinking workforce with new talent, and a need for an infusion of capital and equipment to remain competitive in a global manufacturing landscape

  • Automation drives most plant floors, but not everyone is using it effectively. More education from suppliers is needed to drive more and better usage of automation

  • Energy efficiency and sustainability will be major issues in the next three years.

    • The study of nearly 800 readers reveals an educated, experienced workforce leading manufacturing. There were 77% of respondents with more than 10 years in manufacturing, and 50% had more than 20 years in the business. There are 44% who have earned bachelor’s degrees, and another 23% with advanced degrees.

      The plant engineer sees his role in IT-enabled assets growing in the coming years, and increasingly in a shared role with the IT department in the specification, deployment and maintenance of IT-enabled assets.

      The problem with the IT assets is that the plant manager does not believe the assets are being fully used to provide his staff or the enterprise level of the plant with the knowledge they could be getting. Only 37% of respondents say they are using IT-enabled assets effectively.

      Another crucial area for plant engineers is finding and training new staff to replace those workers nearing retirement age. The so-called 'skills gap’ in manufacturing appears as a chasm to most plant managers.

      While the two biggest challenges plant engineers say they will face in the coming years are budget restrictions and energy costs, the next three issues %%MDASSML%% all cited by more than 50% of respondents %%MDASSML%% are the recruitment, training and retention of skilled workers. The issue is especially acute in the automation area, where finding trained workers to operate automation assets is seen as the top issue, ahead of making a business case for automation or the functionality of the equipment.

      Despite the pages devoted to the topic in this magazine and elsewhere, maintenance remains a matter that needs more attention from all aspects of manufacturing. With the emphasis on productivity and the cost of new equipment, a maintenance program would seem to be a basic requirement of a modern manufacturing operation. Yet just 40% of plant engineers surveyed have a maintenance program in place. Another 34% have a program in development, and 26% have no program at all.

      This may be reflected in the way plant engineers view two of the newer software entries on the floor %%MDASSML%% enterprise asset management and service-oriented architecture. Just over half of plant engineers were involved in specifying or purchasing their EAM system, and less than half of those are satisfied with the results. Just 29% of engineers said their company was moving toward an SOA system, and two-thirds said SOA was not a requirement when purchasing software products.

      IT department60.7%
      Plant maintenance department59.4%
      Outsource/OEM25.6%


      Remain the same49.9%
      Plant maintenance’s role will increase38.8%
      Plant maintenance role will decrease11.3%


      To download a full copy of the survey, go to www.PlantEngineering.com



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me