Having worked in manufacturing for almost four decades, I'm sometimes asked what I like most. That is a tough question to answer. Manufacturing is constantly evolving and, due to my involvement in a wide variety of manufacturing sectors, I can't narrow it down to one favorite thing. Instead, I put together a list of eight things I love about working in manufacturing.
1. High-tech multi-axis machining
Multi-axis CNC machines can be used to make intricate and complex parts, such as those used in the medical, aerospace, automotive, and nano-electronic industries. It can feel great to go home at the end of the day knowing you made a part that will be used in the latest PC or medical device. Besides traditional subtractive machining on multi-axis CNC, 3D printing was always one of my favorite things to “play” with. What’s next? A combination of traditional subtractive machining with the added benefits of 3D printing (additive manufacturing) in one machine tool.
2. Working with rare metals and materials
Back when I started in manufacturing, we thought we were working with the coolest metals and materials. When I visit shops now, they are working with materials like titanium, Inconel, Hastelloy, composites, and more. They make parts that are lightweight, corrosion resistant, able to withstand high heat, and of greater strength than the steels we used way back when. It makes me wonder what the next new material will be.
3. Working with great people
Working in teams, collaborating with great people who have a can-do attitude, learning from others by sharing knowledge, skills, and talent—it’s amazing what can be accomplished by working together and sharing ideas. In addition, I made many lifelong friends, working side by side with them in manufacturing.
4. Cool technology
Manufacturing has changed over the years. It has gone from being somewhat dirty and behind the times to becoming a leader in implementing new technologies. In the past, there was a good deal of manual labor involved. Now, 21st century automation and the latest technology have found their way into manufacturing. Things like exoskeletons, augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, collaborative robots, and machine learning are commonly used. They not only make the work safer and easier to do, but they require employees with a totally new skill set. Manufacturing has not only adopted cool new technologies, but they are also the ones making it for the rest of the world to use.
5. Making something everyone loves
It can give a person a great deal of pride to walk down an aisle of a grocery store and see a package of frozen peas, a can of soup, or a bottle of water and realize they were part of the supply chain that got the item to the store. They helped process an item in a food processing plant, taking it from the raw stage and converting it into an edible food item. Being part of feeding America or even the world is very satisfying.
6. Being the best
Most of us have the drive to be the best we can be. Manufacturing allows us to bring this competitive drive to the forefront by providing us with challenges. Those challenges can be anything from solving complex issues and implementing major changes to making sure products meet customer and quality criteria.
Most companies have key performance indicators (KPI) that everyone in the plant is working to reach or improve, creating a fantastic environment for people who want to be the best they can—people who want to grow, learn, and better themselves. It’s that kind of work environment that brings out the best in many people.
7. Opportunity for personal growth
Looking back on my time in manufacturing, I realize manufacturing is full of opportunities for a person who wants to grow. I worked in a wide variety of jobs and industries, which was mostly due to people allowing me to make changes, as well as developing new skills almost daily. If you are looking for an industry where you can work your way up from any position, manufacturing will allow you to do that. The opportunities are nearly endless.
8. Critical thinking
A big challenge in manufacturing is continuous improvement—finding new and better ways to solve problems, improve products and processes, and increase customer satisfaction. To continually increase manufacturing efficiencies, capabilities, and the bottom line, it helps to be able to think outside the box. When I see something change for the better due to a problem I solved, I feel a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that I rarely get from anything else. Manufacturing offers the challenge to critically think daily.
As you can see, working in manufacturing is more than a job—it’s a life full of ever-changing technologies, challenges, rewards, and great people. That is why I fell in love with manufacturing almost four decades ago, and continue to love it today.