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Our next millennial in this series is Alex Johnson, an associate engineer at Saline Lectronics. Alex has been with the company for over two years, and so far, he is genuinely enjoying it. He's gained a a better understanding of the manufacturing process and enjoys addressing the challenges that come along with manufacturing.
"There are a lot of tasks to be completed before production, and a lot of issues that arise during manufacturing, especially if you manufacture as many different assemblies as we do at Lectronics. Organizing these tasks, and ensuring nothing drops off the list has proven to be an ongoing challenge. I'm always looking for ways to improve my organizational system," Alex said.
Solving these manufacturing problems, and ensuring efficient work day in and day out is what makes the job satisfying for Alex.
"It's interesting to see exactly to what extent the proper tools and techniques can increase overall efficiency. We had a customer using a custom battery connector. Since it was custom-made, it was supplied to us in bulk packaging, and had to be hand-placed. Simply creating a fixture to assist in the hand-placement of these parts halved the amount of labor involved in placing these parts. As quantities continued to increase, we invested in the ability to machine-place these parts; what used to be a six-hour job now can be completed in under an hour."
"As another example, figuring out how to create a tool that will allow you to manufacture a part using a reflow soldering method as opposed to a hand-soldering method can often be very challenging, but very rewarding in the end."
Long-term Career Prospect
When asked on whether his expectations were met when he was applying for this job, Alex said they have been exceeded.
"I first applied for a job on the manufacturing floor, expecting to have to change career fields in order to have a job that would be more challenging and have a higher pay range. However, I was offered a position in engineering, which has proven to be very engaging."
Regarding careers in manufacturing, Alex said many younger people are saying that manufacturing in the United States is a dying industry, “not only because we hear a lot about companies off-shoring jobs, but also due to advances in technology that are on the horizon.”
"There is a lot of automation going on that makes people uncertain as to whether their job will still be there in 30–40 years. This uncertainty about the manufacturing industry is especially apparent in online forums that typically have a large, young user base. This scares away younger people who are currently deciding what they want to do until they retire. To convince the young generation that this is a stable industry, I believe it would have to be the policymakers who would have to show people they really care about increasing the stability of jobs in the manufacturing sector over the next 30-40 years."
While older generations say loyalty is one of their issues with regard to millennials, for Alex, it is actually the issue of having a long-term career prospect in this industry.
"Over the past few decades, there has been a lot of news about companies outsourcing and offshoring jobs to save money, or declaring bankruptcy and writing off employee pensions. Having heard so much about this while growing up, it's difficult to think of company loyalty as staying with a company for 30+ years. Company loyalty to me means maintaining a strong work ethic, especially when challenges arise."
Will he be ready to take on bigger roles in the company and help it succeed? It seems so.
"Manufacturing has been and is still becoming more automated. To succeed, we will have to continue to embrace new, more efficient, and more automated technologies. For example, we've recently taken the small step of purchasing a consumer model 3D printer, for which I have been acting as the lead in developing uses for here at Lectronics. While it isn’t as accurate as a machine shop, and the plastic it prints can’t withstand very high temperatures, we have been able to find numerous uses for it such as pick and place trays, lead forming tools, spacing tools, and conformal coat boots. All of these tools add value in that it costs considerably less to make an acceptable tool on the 3D printer versus having a machine shop make the same tool out of a different material. Furthermore, many of the tools would be too expensive to justify the cost of having a machine shop make them."
Even though Alex received a lot of negative information about manufacturing throughout his lifetime, his work experience in engineering at Lectronics has directly challenged those preconceived notions. While this industry still has work to do by improving the public's perception of what it means to have a career in 21st century manufacturing, we are fortunate to have thought leaders like Alex to help shape that bright future.