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It's Cool to Be a Manufacturing Engineering Major Again

Two Engineers Using CAD Programming Software On Laptop

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The number of individuals earning degrees in engineering has increased steadily over the past decade, and those numbers will only continue to grow. In particular, one subdiscipline of engineering is looking ever more appealing to students: manufacturing engineering.

What Is Manufacturing Engineering?

Manufacturing engineering is a branch of engineering that focuses on improving the production of an item, whether that’s through making product design changes or creating more effective manufacturing processes. Job duties of manufacturing engineers can include developing solutions to production issues, performing cost-benefit analyses, or operating computer-aided design software to design and produce products and systems. Professionals in this field sometimes go by the title plant engineer or process engineer.

While mechanical engineering remains the most popular engineering branch when it comes to bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. (possibly due to the sheer number of schools that offer this degree), bachelor’s degrees awarded in manufacturing engineering and related fields have been steadily growing in the recent past, increasing from 3,503 diplomas in 2007 to 5,649 diplomas in 2016.

For those who have already graduated from college, earning a master’s degree at a program such as North Carolina State’s Integrated Manufacturing Systems Engineering Institute (IMSEI) is also an increasingly popular option. In fact, master’s degrees in manufacturing engineering and related fields are not that far behind bachelor’s degrees, increasing from 2,565 diplomas in 2007 to 4,102 diplomas in 2016.

Why Students Want to Become Manufacturing Engineering Majors

The number of both bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in manufacturing engineering has increased by more than 150% over the past decade, which indicates that many students clearly have a strong interest in a manufacturing engineering career. Here are some reasons why students think it’s a good idea to be a manufacturing engineering major again:

There are many specialties students can explore.
Getting a manufacturing engineering degree offers many opportunities to conduct lab research and academic projects while at school. For example, at The Ohio State University, the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME), part of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and the MEP National NetworkTM, provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to work directly with research faculty and small and medium-sized manufactures in engineering research and innovation acceleration.

Graduates can work for a variety of industries.
While “manufacturing” might conjure up pictures of older, traditional production facilities to some, a manufacturing engineering degree can lead to employment at many diverse, tech-forward companies and industries. Pretty much any item that gets manufactured can benefit from a manufacturing engineer’s guidance, and graduates might work on products from important medical devices to consumer electronics and even parts for a spacecraft.

Students stay focused on making things.
Many students are drawn to engineering in the first place because of their love of making products and machines, and they hope to continue doing this in a professional capacity after graduating. Manufacturing engineers stay laser-focused on creating the best, most efficient product possible, which a lot of students find very appealing. At the end of the day, they’ll be able to point to a tangible, concrete item they helped to improve.

It creates the opportunity to raise the standard of living for the world.
Manufacturing engineers work on products and processes that can touch thousands or even millions of people, especially if they work on consumer-focused devices. Not only that, manufacturing is also a key factor in creating a healthy economy both domestically and abroad by contributing about 10% to the U.S. economy each year, and plays a similarly important role in economies around the world. As the description of Georgia Tech’s manufacturing research labs clearly puts it, “Manufacturing...forms the basis of wealth creation in Georgia, the United States, and globally. The improvement of manufacturing processes is the key to raising the standard of living of all the peoples of the world.”

It puts graduates on a solid career path.
Besides raising the worldwide standard of living, a career in manufacturing engineering can also raise students’ personal standard of living by setting them up for a solid career. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t break out manufacturing engineers separately, employment of engineers overall is expected to increase by 8% by 2026, one percent higher than the average. Not only that, the median annual pay for all engineers is $92,220 (more than twice the average median pay across all occupations), and employees in certain sectors — such as computer and electronic product manufacturing — can make even more.

The career outlook is bright for engineers overall, and manufacturing engineers often get to work on products that touch and improve the lives of people all over the world. Whether it’s a bachelor’s or a master’s, getting a degree in manufacturing engineering will set students on the path for a successful career in one of the economy’s most important industries.

If you are a manufacturer that needs help attracting emerging manufacturing engineering talent, connect with your local MEP Center for guidance with workforce development.

About the author

Mary Ann Pacelli

Mary Ann Pacelli, M.Ed., is the Division Chief for Network Learning and Strategic Competitions with the NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  In this role, Mary Ann oversees the special competitions award process and the development and implementation of a plan for Learning and Knowledge Sharing across the National Network.  Recently Mary Ann was the Program Manager, Workforce Development, at MEP for over 4 years.  Her work included advocating for Manufacturing Workforce priorities with related federal agencies and providing technical support to the network of MEP centers across the country for workforce related activities.  In addition, she manages special MEP projects, and coordinates the Workforce Directors of the Manufacturing USA Institute Network, on behalf of the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Program Office. 

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