Automotive engineering hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. Automation has sped up production but for the most part, manufacturing techniques and advances have left the automotive industry in the metaphorical dust. New technologies, like 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection molding can help to move the automotive industry into the 21st century. How can existing automotive manufacturers bridge the skills gap in automotive engineering between their current manufacturing techniques and these new invaluable skills?
A Lack of Skilled Hands
Technology is quickly becoming the ruling body in the world of manufacturing — even industries that have decades of experience under their collective belts are scrambling to catch up. This new technology-heavy world is lacking only one thing — the skilled hands that are needed to keep the technology running.
In the UK, for example, industries are expected to require more than 180,000 skilled people every year to maintain growth by 2024. With the current trends in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers and education, they’re predicting that they’ll be more than 20,000 people short.
Why are there so few skilled engineers staying in the automotive industry? Automation has taken some of those jobs, but many of these skilled individuals are leaving for more lucrative jobs in other fields. How can we overcome that skills gap in automotive engineering to keep the automotive industry functioning into the future?
Smart factories are the wave of the future — they’ve already started to replace more traditional manufacturing facilities with automated assembly lines that need software engineers rather than traditionally skilled individuals. This is where the skill gap becomes most prevalent.
Automotive engineers aren’t being left out and they’re definitely still a necessary part of the production process, but they are being left behind in favor of the software engineers needed to program the smart factories.
Technologies Causing Problems
What new technologies are causing all these problems?
3D printing is the first one that springs to mind — nearly anything can be printed out of plastics, metal, or even glass, as long as you have someone who can create a digital 3D model. For existing parts, this problem becomes even easier — a 3D scan can be downloaded into the computer and the parts can be produced en masse. It’s been used everywhere from automotive factories to the International Space Station.
Machined parts are a staple of automotive construction — CNC machining just takes the human element out of the process, replacing it with highly programmed machines. While you might complain about robots taking our jobs, utilizing CNC machining creates a more uniform product with fewer errors during the production process.
Injection molding is also a new technology that is taking the automotive world by storm. Cars are made of numerous plastic components sit on top of the aluminum or steel frame. Injection molding allows for quick and efficient manufacturing of these automotive parts. As its name suggests, hot molten plastic is injected, under pressure, into the molds — the additional pressure means a better product (no air bubbles, no need for a vacuum chamber to remove air from the plastic before it is used) that cools and forms much faster.
New Technology and Old Practices
The trick here isn’t to push out the established engineers in favor of new ones — that ends up being a poor choice simply because software engineers may not understand what is necessary as part of the automotive production process. Instead, these companies need to start providing training for their existing workers.
Focus on easy to understand and easy to consume training content. If your production line is changing to 3D printed parts, make sure that your crew is trained and trained well before the first printer ever makes its production line debut. Management should complete the training first, because even if it’s not a field that they were previously trained for, having that leg-up will allow them to assist, train, and mentor their team through this new transition.
This may require a change to your training techniques though. Traditionally, you’d expect your team to sit in a conference room and absorb the lesson in one session, but if your team is spread out throughout multiple locations, this just isn’t always feasible. Instead, focus on mobile training techniques — lessons that can be accessed from anywhere, as long as there is a handy internet connection. Not only does this enable your team to train from anywhere, it makes it easier to go back and refresh any topics that might be causing problems.
The Big Picture For the Skills Gap in Automotive Engineering
New technology doesn’t have to mean the end of the automotive engineer. It just takes a little bit of training to make sure that these new innovations aren’t leaving the engineers behind. Training is what it will take to bridge that skills gap in automotive engineering — and manufacturers willing to offer the training.