June 2, 2020

The leaders of innovation at manufacturing companies: who are they?

The new decade started with tricky challenges for the manufacturing industry in Lithuania. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing significant changes in the way we work. The revolution is gaining pace and the utilization of new technologies is growing, and we are reimagining the way humans, machines and data interact. It is important to recognise that highly skilled engineers are at the heart of a successful implementation of new digital technologies. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) monitors closely the situation on the job market and manufacturing industry and implements changes in their study process. Students at VGTU gain the latest professional knowledge and master new digital technologies; the university also promotes interdisciplinary cooperation between engineers in mechanics and manufacturing. 

VGTU student

The recent pandemic showed that the need for engineers will only increase 

Students need a good knowledge of mathematics and physics to study mechanical or manufacturing engineering. Unfortunately, pupils have to choose subjects at school rather early in life, long before they know what they would like to study in the future, and often they choose an easier path – without courses in science – that requires less effort.  

“Pupils start thinking about their studies at university and their future careers in senior years at secondary school. At that time, their choice becomes limited due to the course profile that they have chosen earlier, and an option to study engineering is automatically eliminated. Then, students have to choose the social sciences or humanities. It is one of the factors why management and administration studies have become so popular. This situation leads to too many professionals in management and administration, and the high demand for engineers,” says assoc. prof. Gintas Viselga, vice-dean at VGTU’s Faculty of Mechanics. 

Assoc. prof. Gintas Viselga, vice-dean at VGTU’s Faculty of Mechanics

Technical education institutions have started the discussion on the potential shortage of engineering skills in the future a long time ago; finally, the employers have recognized this as well.  

“The demand for mechanical engineers has always been rather high; but, recently, the demand grew significantly. The main reason behind this is the rapid development of the economy – almost all manufacturing industries have been expanding and continuously increasing production. The global automotive industry is not an exception. Our company is part of this industry and we needed a lot of colleagues who could help us to exploit the opportunities in the market. Now, we expect a recession, but this is not bad news for engineers. We have noticed changes in the global supply chain: European automotive companies move away from suppliers in China and look for partners in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, and Lithuania as well,” says Kristina Šarkinaitė, deputy CEO of Metec – a German automotive component producer. 

The largest players of the automotive industry have planned the changes in their supply chains and decided to transfer their business from politically unstable China to other locations before the pandemic. Now, this trend will be even more visible. But what does that mean for mechanical and manufacturing engineers? It means that the demand for these professionals will increase. The representative of the company says, that companies from various manufacturing industries will be looking for possibilities to transfer their manufacturing activities from China to countries in Europe, and Lithuania is a very attractive alternative. We will likely see a lot of new orders and proposals.

An advantage in the market

Rising levels of global consumption mean that mechanical engineers have to develop new and more efficient equipment, devices and machines for the manufacturing industry; and manufacturing engineers need to improve or reinvent manufacturing technologies, to develop new manufacturing systems, which can adapt to rapid changes in the demand; thus, one can never get bored in this industry, the job is not only interesting but also well-paid. 

The latest report by Invest Lithuania shows that the number of professionals in industrial engineering sectors is rather low and these professionals are quite well paid. The data show that an average salary of an industrial engineering professional in Lithuania is 1 148 EUR, and their salaries are 46% higher than the average salary in Lithuania.  

Manufacturing and mechanical engineers have strong advantages in the job market. They have a wide array of competencies and skills and easily adapt in various areas of work.  K. Šarkinaitė, the representative of Metec, confirms this by saying: “Engineers are valuable, because, in addition to knowledge about manufacturing technologies and design, they also are knowledgeable about information technologies, quality management, and can communicate effectively with customers in different languages, understand about ecology requirements, and have knowledge about various other activities at companies. Naturally, every person focuses only on several areas, on something that they are most fond of. On the other hand, companies are looking for professionals who have a wider understanding of how companies work, and who can adapt quickly. Then an employer knows that an employee will stay with the company even during the most unexpected changes and they will also help others in the company to adapt.”

VGTU studies

Technologies change the nature of work

Companies are forced to rethink their manufacturing processes because of the ever-growing industry digitalization. It also changes the nature of work of mechanical and manufacturing engineers: their work requires less physical effort, but professionals need more expertise in various areas beyond the engineering itself. 

“The basic knowledge in engineering is not enough anymore. Professionals need to know about automated equipment control, the latest information technologies – to be able to programme numerically controlled machines: robots, welding, painting, riveting machines, 3D scanners and printers and other modern manufacturing equipment. A mechanical engineer should know how to maintain and repair this type of complex equipment. Maintenance has to be timely and meticulous, and, in case of machine failure, it should be repaired as quickly as possible because downtime costs are tremendous,” G. Viselga is convinced.  

During the last decade, the nature of work had changed in almost every industry; engineering is not an exception. The biggest challenge for engineers is the pace at which the technologies and software development changes and, subsequently, change the machines, equipment and technologies used in the industry. 

“Now more than ever engineers need to be the leaders of innovation at manufacturing companies because they have the knowledge and skills to understand the global trends, evaluate their impact on a specific company. Every employee must share responsibility. Even the most experienced managers are not able to follow the immense flow of information and decision-making process becomes more decentralised, employees have more freedom and responsibility to make decisions related to their work. Also, they must understand the benefits of systematic work and how it can be developed. Ecology, the sustainability of products and resources is another important area of activities. It is very likely that these aspects will be the next drivers for change in the way engineers work,” says K. Šarkinaitė on the changes in the nature of work of engineers.

VGTU studies

Employers are looking beyond the technical knowledge

The report by Invest Lithuania says that top talent is a must for a success story of a manufacturing company. The report presents the most company-valued competences: employees in Lithuania are valued for their multilingual skills, curiosity to learn, cultural fit, and strong work ethics. Employers also mention that profession-related competencies are crucial, but also it is important that professionals in Lithuania can work in teams and have high motivation. 

K. Šarkinaitė, the representative of Metec, notes that their company especially values attention to detail, thoroughness and desire to learn. “Work at different companies and plants has certain specificity. University engineering students must be able to adapt: have skills to comprehend large volumes of information, be able to find analogies, and apply their knowledge in new contexts. The young professionals have to be thorough and attentive to detail – it is the best way to master new processes and provide their insights for the rest of the organisation to learn,” says the representative of the company.

Vice-dean of VGTU’s Faculty of Mechanics explains that currently there is a very wide choice of technical equipment. Engineers need to understand very well the technical parameters of various machines used in manufacturing, and to be able to assess if the analysed equipment is the best choice for the specific company, will the new machines fit into the current system, is it compatible with other machines and equipment. Once a machine is bought, engineers need to master its control and maintenance requirements. Usually, providers of equipment are from other countries; thus, engineers must speak foreign languages and communicate effectively on the level of technical terms. Also, they need to train other employees to work on new machines – effective communication skills are crucial to avoid equipment and production failures. Nowadays, just technical skills are not enough for engineers who work in the industry; they also need excellent computer literacy, communication skills, learn languages, and be flexible in terms of work time and place. 

Vice-dean G. Viselga also says that manufacturing and mechanical engineering students develop strong logical thinking during their studies, and it will keep the young professionals on their feet during the turbulent times and in the ever-changing engineering world, and despite everything, they will be able to create and design new machines and technologies that change the world. 

Source – Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU)