Keeping It In House (by Carmen Parisi)

Back in 2008 I was out on my first co-op working as a production engineer making and documenting custom production test fixtures for a well established household name company. One of the great things about working for this company was that all the departments were housed under one roof – design, production support, marketing, quality control, production itself, and the machine shop – it was great. Whenever I had to ask someone a question or go on a fact finding mission everyone I ever needed to talk to was within walking distance. Not having to deal with pesky issues such as time zone differences like I do nowadays kept communication tight and efficient. I can’t seem to recall a time where I was sitting around waiting for a response from someone so I could move forward on a project.

The full-fledged, well equipped, machine shop that was a stone’s throw away from my lab was awesome, to say the least. Not only did I get to hang around with the guys who worked there and have them teach me a thing or two about machining but I also was able to get impossibly quick turn times on the various mechanical pieces I needed to build up my test fixtures. Emailing my CAD drawings to the supervisor in the morning and having fresh parts by lunch was definitely a perk I would not have been able to get by shipping my designs to an outside company.

Being a production engineer and having the resources from design and quality control in the same building as production itself took a lot of stress off when issues arose during production and the process was shutdown. Failures were able to be resolved quickly in most cases with a minimum amount of down time which lead to much happier higher ups as the company wasn’t losing as much money. Quality control was responsible for screening incoming parts and assemblies as well as the final products themselves and was always a good place to start investigating failures. As an issue escalated I was able to troubleshoot at the actual production stations to verify there were no issues with the test fixtures they were using and I could figure out if what I had seen in the lab matched what was actually going on. Finally, I could take my findings to the original designer and get their input on how to get production up and running again. Most of the time all of these steps would happen inside of one day!

Experiencing the whole engineering design cycle under one roof while on co-op was a great experience. At my current job (another well established, though not household name company), I’m dealing with people and outside companies all over the world. From time to time my thoughts slip back to that first co-op and I think how nice it would be to have all the resources I need at arm’s length again. When issues arise at overseas facilities that I can’t do anything about or another engineer is out of contact while I’m working because they’re on another continent and it’s midnight gets frustrating. Personally, I find it slows my productivity and stalls my progress. What have your experiences been with keeping the engineering cycle in one locale versus distributed? Which do you prefer?