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Getting to Know Your Designer
In this issue, we examine how fabs work with their design customers, educating them on the critical elements of fabrication needed to be successful, as well as the many tradeoffs involved. How well do you really know your customer? What makes for a closer, more synchronized working relationship?
In this issue, the biggest names in PCB manufacturing share their economic outlook for the upcoming year and beyond. As you will see, they were all bullish on our industry, but there was some apprehension as well. No one wants to get burned by another the supply chain disruption.
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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
The New Chapter
By Hannah Nelson & Paige Fiet
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The New Chapter: My Top 5 Skills for Manufacturing Engineers
I love speaking with high school and college students who are looking to join the electronics industry. Their enthusiasm always rejuvenates me. In our conversations, I have noticed several trends in their questions; the most popular is “What are you looking for in a new engineer?” Here is my list of the top five skills I believe any new manufacturing engineering graduate should have before they start their first job.
1. Communication skills
Having good communication skills is probably the most vital skill to have in any industry. It’s important to know how to boil down the information into the most critical parts for a management team and how to simplify directions for the operators. My dad’s favorite saying for this is, “Managers don’t want to know how the clock is built, just what time it is.” On any given day, I may be tasked to explain the same issue in three different ways to my general manger, my engineering team, and my operators. The details in each explanation vary greatly.
Communication is also important when assistance is needed. It’s not likely that any engineer, let alone a new graduate, will know everything. Knowing when and who to reach out to, along with how to explain the dilemma, will make a difference in the performance of a department.
2. Problem solving
Just as communication skills are valuable across many industries, so is having a toolbox of problem-solving skills. However, manufacturing engineers in particular need to expedite the time it takes to solve a problem. Down time for machinery is one of the worst possible events for manufacturers. First, the engineers will be tasked with solving the root of the problem. This can be one of the greatest challenges, as the root cause may be complex. Next, they will need to find a solution quickly.
Nine times out of 10, there won’t be time to solve all the math calculations taught in college. Instead, an engineer should have an estimation of what is required. For example, if I am reading a pH value on a developer after I have made a new bath, there won’t be a “right” value that I am looking for. Rather, I know it should be between 10 and 11. If I have a reading of 2, then something is wrong.
Statistics wasn’t my favorite class in college and I’m sure it’s not a favorite for many others, but it is essential in understanding a process and causes of scrap. Every week, I make a Pareto chart for my operators to visualize our top defects so we can work together to reduce them. Statistics also come in handy when determining the source of intermittent defects. PCB manufacturing is very complex. It often comes in handy to know percentages of work that went through certain processing steps and when they did.
4. Intrinsic motivation
One of the starkest differences between college and industry lies in the motivation required. At the university level, grades are assigned and due dates are given. That is not always the case in manufacturing. There is no hand holding to verify work is getting done in a timely manner. Within reason, it is left to the engineer to determine the tasks they will work on during the workday. The engineer must want to solve problems and engage in the work they are doing. My coworkers and I joke that if you are fully engaged with your department, you can’t be bored in manufacturing.
5. Bouncing back after failure
I’m not sure any of us like to fail. It’s surely not comfortable but it is necessary for growth. Learning not to take failure personally and move forward was one of the toughest skills to master as a new graduate. One of my favorite sayings comes from Mark Twain: “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” I try to think of failure as an experience I don’t need to have again. Sometimes, months down the road, I can even laugh about some of the mistakes I’ve made.
Of course, each hiring manager will be looking for different skills, but I believe most will agree with my top five. They are skills all of us can work on at any age or position in our careers. If you are a student looking into manufacturing of any kind, I encourage you to try it. Take opportunities to job shadow, intern, and co-op at companies that interest you. Find people in your life who are in positions you want to be in some day; ask them how they got there and what skills they find important. Hopefully, you will walk away from that conversation more informed and ready to take on a career of your choosing.
this column originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.
More Columns from The New ChapterThe New Chapter: Easing the Learning Curve for Young Professionals
The New Chapter: My Review of Happy Holden’s ‘24 Essential Skills for Engineers’
The New Chapter: Teach the Terminology
The New Chapter: Reimagining PCB Design in Education
The New Chapter: The Pros and Cons of Tribal Knowledge
The New Chapter: Smoothing the Rocky Road of Onboarding
The New Chapter: Four Steps to Developing an Improvement Process
The New Chapter: It’s a Brave, New Workforce