2 answers

What are the most challenging parts of being an automotives engineer?

Asked Poland, Maine

2 answers

G. Mark’s Answer


Interesting story. (Isn't it great that I've prepared you by not saying, "Boring story. Stop reading here." ) But I digress. I was at a party and I happened to be talking to a guy who told me he worked on the Space Shuttle. I was intrigued, of course. I said, "It must be pretty daunting to know you're designing something that will be subjected to the stress of being in outer space!" He told me, "Not really. The real challenge is designing a family car." HUH? "The Shuttle doesn't sit in all sorts of bad weather, it doesn't get pushed through roads full of soot and salt. It doesn't sit in a driveway without being serviced for days or even months at a time. The astronauts don't leave ice cream on the seats or unbuckle their seat belts and stick their head out the windows. And when we pull the shuttle into the hangar, the astronauts aren't trying to get us to fix it with cheaper parts or to get it to fly just "one more time" without putting a lot of money into it.

So what's the challenging part of being an automotive engineer? Pretty much all of it. The idea that you're dealing with customers whose requirements span a huge variety of situations, who will subject your product to immense stress, who often have no time whatsoever to figure out how they might be abusing your product beyond its intended application. And all the while you're competing with dozens of other companies who are trying like heck to beat you at your game. And that's the thrill of it all. You'll most likely succeed against those incredible odds. Even if your product doesn't ever leave earth's atmosphere.

Gordon’s Answer

Updated Sebastopol, California

OK, as a retired Toyota engineer in manufacturing, supplier, production and redesign for the assy line, the basic idea is keep to the production schedule, and avoid increased cost, no rework or downtime for the line (where you make money). The margins are very thin so every penny counts at 5,000 cars a week, on two shifts. This requires advance planning for any model changes or new parts introduction. Communicate with your colleagues across the board including any supplier contacts. You should take the attitude for your responsible area, be it parts, production delivery, supplier and assy issues, I want to know if you have any problems, don't have people tell you "We have no problems" that is an accident waiting to happen, no one has any scrap issues or rework issues in the supply chain or production line? The cost to run an automotive assy line when I was in the game (10 solid with Toyota in Fremont, CA ) and 35 as independent auto engineer for other plants, was about $1,000 PER MINUTE. Planning is essential and problem solving.

Gordon recommends the following next steps:

  • Become familiar with statistics for analysis, software package are available.
  • Gather data on you problem parts and assy area, daily walk the line on both shifts to see for yourself
  • Talk to your Team and Group Leaders (and line people for their input if any on potential problems issues. You can always figure out if you need to go futher up the food chain to help solve the problem
  • Understand Plan Do Check Action (PDCA) methods