Project engineers show their all-round skills

by Carmen To

Eric Shum, design engineering manager, Joyas Manufacturing Limited

Diverse talents are needed to oversee the full manufacturing process

The work of a project engineer requires multiple skills and practical knowledge of just about every aspect of the profession. During the course of an assignment, they can expect to have a hand in everything from design and budgeting to selecting materials and advising on aspect of the production process.

"Nowadays, project engineers have to combine many strengths and skills and may even need to help with the marketing of certain products," explains Eric Shum, design manufacturing manager for Joyas Manufacturing Limited, which specialises the production of gifts and premium products.

Turning an idea or design concept into a finished item, which may be sold in markets around the world, is no easy task. Therefore, engineers running such a project need to have a comprehensive overview and the ability to plan and coordinate things faultlessly.

"On the development side, it always helps to draw up a flow chart which includes a detailed time line and the key milestones," says Mr Shum. "There should also be an agreed budget and clear contractual terms with the main partners or vendors. This is the key to producing items at a reasonable price and ensuring there is no dispute about quantities."

Mr Shum emphasises that precise planning like this depends on engineers being fully familiar with the whole manufacturing process. It is especially important for them to be able to interpret design features and to understand the properties of different materials used during manufacture.

Clear communication

However, the success of a new product often depends just as much on good communication. That applies not just for the marketing campaign which introduces the product to potential buyers, but at each step of the development process as well.

In this context, project engineers must ensure that factories, vendors and salespeople are absolutely clear about the relevant product specifications, schedules, certifications and promotional ideas.

"Constant communication and internal follow-ups are very important to make sure everything runs smoothly," notes Mr Shum. "This is equally true for product development and for managing staff."

He adds that it also plays a major part in deciding on the right marketing strategy. If the company is to keep in touch with trends and the changing requirements for either OEM or ODM products, it is essential to talk to customers and suppliers at every opportunity.

Entry requirements

When hiring, Joyas generally looks for candidates with a degree in mechanical or electronic engineering and a good grasp of recent advances in technology. "It is not easy to find well-rounded candidates," says Mr Shum. "Junior engineers should be ready to work their way up and perfect their skills. We look for recruits who have an outgoing personality, good communication skills and an eye for detail."

Since the products made by Joyas range from clocks, calculators and photo frames to key chains and other accessories, Mr Shum says that engineers with a knowledge of metal manufacturing have an advantage. Anyone who can demonstrate time management skills and experience in handling cost control also has a head start.

"Project engineers who join us will gain the hands-on experience and wide exposure to different aspects of manufacturing that will stand them in good stead for their future careers," he notes.

Career path

According to Mr Shum, there are many opportunities available for engineers, provided they are prepared to travel and are willing to work much of the time at factories in mainland China. He also says it is important to keep in touch with trends and engineering developments in other parts of the world.

He is optimistic about the prospects for the profession and believes junior engineers can look forward to an exciting future. "Always regard yourself as an apprentice," he advises. "Open your eyes and ears and learn with a humble heart."

Essential skills for project engineers

  • Familiarity with the full manufacturing process for better project coordination
  • Time and cost management skills to draw up precise product development plans
  • Sound communication skills to understand and deal with various parties
  • Knowledge of design concepts and different materials used in the production process

Taken from Career Times 24 March 2006
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