The Core of Automotive – Manufacturing Engineering

AEHQ Introduction to Automotive Engineering 2 Comments

Have you ever tried to assemble a piece of furniture and wondered why it doesn’t quite look like the display in the store? Have you ever tried to repair an appliance and wondered why it didn’t go back together quite the same way as before? Or have you had screws left over after reassembly that you know should have gone somewhere? It takes a creative mind to come up with the next generation automotive technology that will be used to design future automobiles. But if that technology cannot be mass-produced, then it will never leave the drawing board. Manufacturing engineers are the true heroes in the automotive world as they design the systems, machines and processes that build the next generation of automobiles and deliver them to the end customer.

Manufacturing engineering overview

Manufacturing engineering is a complex field that deals with a variety of different functions required to build, assemble, test and ship the next generation automobile. There are a variety of different roles included under the job of manufacturing engineering including:

  • Process and assembly development
  • Logistics and materials planning
  • Tooling design
  • Test design and development
  • Robotics
  • Manufacturing Systems
  • Production/Final assembly test
  • Packaging and Shipping

Each of these roles falls under the manufacturing engineering umbrella, but each has a very specific responsibility in the design and creation of an assembly process. To illustrate the importance of each role consider the simple example presented below of creating a hamburger in a fast food restaurant chain and how each of these tasks help to ‘assemble’ a new hamburger. Building a new burger seems simple, but to do it reliably and repeatedly so that each one is consistent over thousands of burger purchases is a complex process.  You can see where each of these manufacturing processes is required and how they are needed to develop a consistent and reliable process.

Including the manufacturing team in developing a new design

Imagine that the marketing team has seen that jalapenos are a hot commodity in the market today and request that their design engineering team develop a new jalapeno burger that they can offer. The design engineering team then develops their concept design and ingredients list and contacts their manufacturing engineering team to review their design with them. The manufacturing team reviews the design to make sure that they have the technology available for the new burger, including the extra processing step required to roast the jalapenos to make the new design stand out.

One of the biggest challenges that manufacturing engineers face is when the design engineers do not include them up front in the design process and don’t let them provide input into the design. If design engineering completes a design without manufacturing input and then essentially ‘tosses it over the wall’ to manufacturing engineering then there is a high probability that there will be issues with assembly and it may not be manufacturable. Design for manufacturability is a huge part of the automotive development process and very critical to any project’s success.

Developing the manufacturing process

Now that the manufacturing engineers have the concept design, they begin to lay out the assembly process for the new burger. They develop the process flow and create individual assembly stations needed to correctly assemble the burger. The flow for assembling the new burger starts with receiving the ingredients, then cooking the burger and roasting the jalapenos, assembling the burger, inspecting the end product and then packing and shipping to deliver it to the customer. The process flow must be designed so that it flows in a logical order and ensures that everything is assembled in the correct order. For example, the burger assembly cannot be completed until the burger meat has been cooked. The role of the process engineer is to understand all the requirements for assembly and to design the process flow so that steps are completed in the correct order. After the process flow is laid out, the other manufacturing engineering specialties get to work.

Coordinating logistics and materials planning

When the concept design has been created and a bill of materials is available, then the logistics and materials planning teams in manufacturing engineering step in to begin their work. The bill of materials is the ingredients list needed to build the end product. The logistics and materials planning groups will review the ingredients and identify sources for each ingredient on the list. They will set up the logistics so that they will have a steady, non-interrupted supply of each ingredient to support the estimated volumes that will be sold of the new product. Sometimes there is a special ingredient that will require them to develop a supplier that can meet the specific needs of the product. In the case of the new jalapeno burger, the logistics and materials planning teams have to find a new source to provide fresh jalapenos on a year-round basis in order to maintain the high quality levels for their end product.

Designing specialty tooling for the assembly process

Assembling a new product will often present new assembly challenges that require custom tooling to be designed. If you consider the new jalapeno burger, the new feature is the jalapenos that must be roasted. Your tooling engineers have already designed the tools required to cook and flip burgers but the jalapenos are a new challenge and require custom tooling to properly roast them. The tooling engineers will design a tool that allows the jalapenos to be roasted and provide roasted jalapenos in the correct amounts to the burger assembly process.

When a new design is being developed, it is important to include the tooling engineers early in the development process to make sure that it will be possible to build a tool to assemble all portions of the design. The design engineers must always remember that if you can’t build it, you don’t have a product-so include the tooling designers early in the design process.

Testing process development

A key part of the assembly process for any product is testing for quality assurance and functionality. Manufacturing test engineers pair up with quality engineers to outline the testing protocol that allows you to monitor the incoming and outgoing quality of any materials and ensure that you are building quality products. The testing process for the new jalapeno burger could be a visual check that includes verifying all the ingredients are in place or it could be a height check to make sure there are a top and bottom bun and a burger in the middle. For complex automobiles, the testing process will involve more detailed testing and use of computer programs to set up test sequences on testing equipment. Regardless of the complexity of the design or the product, the test engineers must design appropriate tests to verify that all the critical parameters for the design have been met before shipping the product.

Automate processes with robotics

One role in the automotive manufacturing process involves robotics to allow for the quick assembly and movement of large pieces. Robotics is essential to automotive manufacturing to increase throughput and reduce human assembly requirements for large automotive components during assembly. There is an entire manufacturing engineering specialty that revolves around robotics and they work with everything from material movement to spot welding during assembly. Even the burger assembly process can benefit from use of a robot during the burger preparation step of the burger. Robotic arms can be used to flip burgers and deliver them to an assembly station to reduce the amount of people that are needed to prepare a burger.

Developing manufacturing systems

Manufacturing systems integrate the entire process within an assembly line and allow you to monitor throughput and quality levels while also controlling the assembly process with a series of checks. Manufacturing systems will make sure that each part goes through all the assembly processes, meets all quality requirements and passes all required tests. Manufacturing systems engineers will often integrate these systems into an internal network so that they receive real-time notifications of how the assembly line is performing even if they are not onsite. The fast food industry utilizes a type of manufacturing system to monitor their delivery times and correct order statistics.

Final assembly processes and shipping

One thing that is often overlooked is that the end product must arrive to the customer in an undamaged and ready-for-use state. This is one of the last steps in the process but definitely no less important than any other step. Packaging must be designed to protect the product during shipping and shipping arrangements must be made for delivery. Shipping automobiles is much more complex than the jalapeno burger’s wrapper and bag, but both products need some type of protective covering to avoid damage and ensure appropriate shipping.

As you can see, from the beginning to the very end of every assembly process, there is a team of manufacturing engineers working together to assemble a high quality product that meets all product specifications and arrives to the customer in perfect shape. So no matter what area of manufacturing engineering you choose to specialize in, you will be working as one part of a large team to develop and ship the next generation products.

Comments 2

  1. abhinav reddy

    hello sir am an automobile engineering student from india.
    can i have some engineers who are working for reputed automotive companies

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