Process improvement engineer

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Sarah, 27

Sarah works in the Manufacturing Trim department at Ford Australia where they make the seat covers for the Falcon and Territory model cars. Her role is to make sure the process is as efficient and cost effective as possible. Find out more:

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Fact file

Job description: Sarah has a unique combination of both an engineering and a commerce degree, which she uses to manage the costs involved in the production of car seat covers. She also works to find ways to improve productivity, quality and safety in the workplace.

Subjects studied: Maths (Methods), Maths (Specialist), English, Chemistry, Physics, Japanese

Further training: Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical)/Bachelor of Commerce. 5 years total University of Melbourne.

Salary: Undisclosed

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Profile

Sarah studied Japanese in year 12 as a break from the mostly science program she had selected. Although she loved science and maths, she was also interested in commerce so decided to combine the two at university.

Sarah decided to study chemical engineering because she was interested in the industries where chemical engineers work. As a chemical engineer, you can do a wide range of activities including work to improve the quality and efficiency of manufacturing processes and design and implement new processes and equipment. For example, if you were making chocolate bars, a chemical engineer would help design the pipes and set the operating conditions of the equipment so the chocolate was kept at the right temperature to keep flowing without burning.

When Sarah finished her degrees, she wanted to try to find a job where she could use both her engineering and her commerce background. She started working with Ford on its three year graduate program and found that she was treated as a "person with a bag of skills, not just an engineer."

During the program, she worked in a number of areas in the company. In the paint shop, she worked as a chemical engineer, looking at ways to improve the quality of the paintwork on new cars and designing tools and processes to make it easier and safer to paint the cars and produce better quality.

Another very different area Sarah worked in was customer service. In this role she was the product specialist for cars imported from Asia and Europe, looking after the cars once they were out on the road. She was responsible for analysing data for cars that experienced problems under warranty and then identifying where the problems were so she could work with the manufacturing plant to fix the problem.

Sarah now works in the trim manufacturing division. This is where the seat covers for the new cars are made. Sarah says that this is actually quite a complex area to work in. Not only are they dealing with a number of different models of car, but every model has a number of different options. Depending on the fabric and model, the costs and time spent can vary greatly from seat to seat. In addition, once the covers are made, they are then shipped to the company who manufactures the car seats so they can fit the covers to the seats before sending the final product back to Ford.

Because of this complexity, Sarah's commerce background really helps her understand and monitor the cost of each cover. She loves the fact that she is able to combine both her interests in this role. "I also like the variety of the job, the fact that what I am doing makes a difference to quality, safety and efficiency and the fact that I am working with and developing people," she says.

In the future, Sarah hopes to continue her pattern of taking very different roles within the one company. She would like to do some work with suppliers and their processes, or move into a different engineering role, or move into management. As she says: "there are so many opportunities. But wherever I end up, I know it's going to be exciting."

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Job specs

Chemical engineers design and coordinate the construction and operation of manufacturing facilities and processes which convert raw materials into everyday products such as petrol, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

Duties

Chemical engineers may perform the following tasks:

  • Seek new and more efficient processes and materials, or improve or find new uses for existing materials
  • Design methods and equipment to control and contain the processes that transform basic materials into useful products
  • Make sure of the safe, efficient and environmentally friendly operation of equipment and test products at various stages of production to check the quality
  • Design and build pilot plants to indicate how full-scale plants will operate when built
  • Make plans and specifications for full-scale production plants, taking into account available technology, the cost and size of equipment and storage space, market needs, transport methods and disposal of surplus substances
  • Review current methods of production for cost efficiency, environmental friendliness, maximum output and product quality
  • Identify faults in the day-to-day operation of process plants (e.g. oil refining, steel making, water treatment) and take corrective action
  • Prepare reports, feasibility studies and cost analyses of processes
  • Provide product process information to sales and marketing personnel or customers
  • Direct and coordinate the work of maintenance and construction tradespeople or process plant operators
  • Provide advice on economical methods of converting raw materials

Personal requirements

  • Enjoy technical and engineering work
  • Willing to adhere to safety requirements
  • Able to identify, analyse and solve problems
  • Good communication skills
  • Good at computing and design
  • Practical and creative
  • Able to work independently
  • Able to accept responsibility

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Getting started

Find out more about a career in process improvement engineering:

Engineers Australia (Victoria Division)
21 Bedford St North Melbourne, VIC 3051
Tel: (03) 9329 8188
Email: vic@engineersaustralia.org.au

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).

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