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Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

(OP)
Hello all,

I am a design engineer that works at a turnkey contract manufacturing company. I am four years into my career, and this is the only company that I’ve worked for. I started out as a test engineer, then got promoted to design engineer.

Part of my job is to work on contract design projects for customers, however every engineer at my company is expected to support production in some way. This makes sense to me seeing that the majority of our company’s profit is from shipping product. Half of my job is working on design projects, the other half of my job is troubleshooting and repairing test fixtures for production.

However, my company has a tendency to request salary employees to do production work (assembling product to ship) that would typically be done by hourly employees like assemblers. Most often this happens because the company is short staffed on production workers, or when the company is trying to hit the sales numbers for the end of the month. Typically this would result in the salary employees having to work unpaid overtime in order to keep up with the demands of their normal job. Engineers in particular are expected to do manual labor to help meet the numbers.
It has gotten to the point that the director of engineering (my manager) stays after work until 10pm working as an assembler.

I know that there are times that employees should be expected to go above and beyond their job description, but is it normal for this type of thing to be expected from their ? I have not worked for any other companies, so I do not really know what is normal.

Should I expect to see this if I were to work as a design engineer in An R&D department?

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Outside of new employee familiarization programs and strikes, I have seen engineers and other salaried office staff work the line exactly once and that was during an unprecedented one-month spike in production. At the time, we were running three shifts hard to assemble a very complex product and the decision was made to supplement with volunteers rather than training, dealing with the resulting quality issues, and laying off in short-order.

That said, its very common for engineers to be hands-on building prototypes and test rigs, however that is a separate process entirely vs production.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

I worked 14 years as a machine designer for a company that manufactured food and chemical processing machinery, and while we manufactured most of the components and assembled the equipment in our own factory, since we were a union shop (this was back in Michigan) we weren't allowed to even pick-up a hand tool, let alone assembly anything (now, it was often seen as a badge of honor for how many times you got written-up by the shop stewards). We couldn't even switch a machine on or off (I got written-up once for kicking off the switch on the floor box when I was showing a machine to one of our vendors and the shop broke for lunch while we were talking and the guy who had turned the machine on just walked away, and I wasn't going to leave a machine running unattended).

Now we had an R&D lab, which ostensibly was still part of the shop, and the people working in the lab were all members of the union, but by mutual agreement with everyone, most work rules were not enforced (the fact that the lab was across any ally and in its own separate stand-alone building helped). There, an engineer could help assemble and test prototypes and experimental pieces of equipment, but it was understood that his 'chair' was still back in the engineering office, so there were limits even there. Also, nothing that we built there could be sold as a finished piece of machinery. What got built in the lab, stayed in the lab (or it got taken apart and/or scraped).

Now when we were out in the field, helping to install these machines or upgrading them, all bets were off. Even in strong union states, us engineers had pretty much free reign. After all, we dressed like the millwrights, green pants and shirts, with the company name embroidered on the back and our name over the pocket on the front. We also wore steel-toed shoes, hardhats, etc. But as they always said, that it was easy to spot the engineers versus the other guys, because engineers wash their hands BEFORE they go to the bathroom winky smile

As for how we got away with working hand-in-hand out in the field with the local union guys, welding parts, wiring up panels, plumbing up steam and gas lines, etc, I always suspected that our foremen, which were all company employees, arranged all this by making generous 'donations' to the local 'Business Agents'.

Now getting back to the original question of this thread, there was one situation where the engineers, and others, working in the office were almost required to work in the shop. That was when we were in the middle of about a three or four week strike and management had all of us fill-out a questionnaire asking about what sort of shop skills did we have as they were planning on trying to get some product out the door. Now nothing ever came of it, since I really think it part of a negotiating ploy to get the union back to the bargaining table, which is exactly what happened (BTW, I doubt that the company's liability and workman's comp insurance would have ever allowed this to happen, but if the union guys didn't realize that, well...).

Note that it was during this nearly month long strike that I decided to look for a better opportunity and that's when I was hired by McDonnell Douglas and we relocated to SoCal from Michigan back in 1980.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

(OP)
CWB1,

Thank you for your response.

I agree with you that it is important for any engineer to be hands on, and that building prototypes and fixtures it all part of the job.

I have been on the fence about leaving my current job for a while.

My goal is to get into more product design and possibly R&D. However my current company does really focus on that. We do not have any prototyping capabilities, and all of the lab space our engineering department has has been taken over by production.

It will be a tough job to leave. I enjoy my coworkers and my boss treats me well, but I’d rather work for a company where engineers are more that just production support and supplementary production workers.

Adjunct question:
What was the hardest job change you had to make and what led you to make the decision to leave?

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

(OP)
Thank you to JohnRBaker

I do wash my hands before I go, but don’t worry, I wash them after too :D

The answers I am getting on this thread are making it clearer that what my company is doing is not normal.

Normally about every month or so there is a request for office employees to work the floor. Almost all of the tasks are able to be done by entry level technician, but are not because they either (a) are short on assemblers and are trying to meet the numbers for the end of the month or (b) have a large order that need expedited.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

We explored similar themes in this list below.

https://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=488481

So this is the rough part of the rough and the smooth of all jobs.

The question is how often and for how long this happens. More than one or two days/ month or more than day 10 hours/ month and they're taking the proverbial and will continue.

But if everything else is good and your part effectively covers this then fine. It's just part of working at that company.

But for your next review meeting, start to note down how much time you spend doing these tasks to "help out".

Does everyone do this or do some manage to find an excuse all the time?

Is this just because you're seem as cheap Labour and seems as part of your training?

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

If your employer wants you to "step up", then they also need to "step up".

Salary work isn't a license for indentured servitude. You are doing work far beyond the scope and time allotment of your position. You are doing others' jobs. It is reasonable to demand compensation in accordance withhe additional work.

I doubt your employer is going to pay you more. Perhaps you can negotiate additional PTO or other benefits?

Takers take. But they do so expecting to get. Set and enforce boundaries. You WILL get a reaction. I've surprised at how often that reaction results in a positive change.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

The basic answer is "run for the hills", particularly if the production line is a total chaotic mess with no production engineering of its own, no established and enforced processes, zero production discipline, and basically zero quality control. I would recommend running for the exits as quickly as you possibly can. An organization like this could sap your life force and can certainly be a detriment to your career development. The only saving grace is that you might learn more about what not to do, which is a highly useful skill to develop

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

The key is how often.

An hour or two a month?
A day a month?
A day a week??

That data then colours the consequential conversation with the relevant manager in terms of what impact this is having and how you get suitably compensated.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

I think it's good experience for all engineers to work in some production to learn hands on. They should also work in some machine shops to learn manufacturing. This knowledge will help with doing design work.

Chris, CSWP
SolidWorks '20
ctophers home
SolidWorks Legion

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Engineers working in production does happen. Thirty years ago the company I was working for designed and made a new product for a customer (a start-up company). They had pre-ordered a lot of product under a contract. But the customer realized there was no market, so they sued for every reason under the sun to get out of the contract. It became a all-hands-on-deck and all the engineers worked testing and repairing boards - anything to crank-out the full production run well ahead of schedule. Four months of 70 hour weeks with no overtime for salaried engineers. In the end they could not sue for non-delivery. The issue then went completely to the lawyers. Funny thing is some of the support force was unionized and went into triple-time+. I remember a maintenance tech complaining about his taxes and he cleared more income during that time than I did as a engineer.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Earlier this year due to a shortage of workers in our area, the corporate office sent several engineers to the plant to work the assembly lines, until enough workers could be hired. A one-time deal, perhaps an after-effect of the pandemic. It was actually helpful to many of the engineers, who did not normally see how a component they were responsible for was actually assembled.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Of course, living in a 'right-to-work-for-less' state, companies can get away with stuff like that.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

@TheTock "If your employer wants you to "step up", then they also need to "step up"" - did you miss the part of the OP about doing this work without compensation?

I would not do this for free under any circumstances given the circustances you describe! Basically you are donating your time (and money) so that someone in management can get a star on his shoulde...



--- Best regards, Morten Andersen

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Not in my world. I've never been asked to lay block, erect steel, or pour concrete. lol

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

Ja, no kidding Mort. That's the point. Employer is NOT stepping up. They need to be compelled to.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

@TheTick, right, sorry might have been a language thing that made me take it litteraly. IMO do it "for fun". I travelled a lot when younger - also after having a family. I did it mostly because i found the assigment interesting. I rarely got compensated (enough) and it sure didnt improve my career winky smile But you do miss out on other stuff...

BTW, its not because i feel its below my station to do _any_ kind of work that my employer thinks might add value. Its the "no compensation" thing i dont like.

--- Best regards, Morten Andersen

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

I don’t see this as being very different than my company’s practice of eliminating support staff in their relentless quest to minimize head count. We are a full service infrastructure design consultant with almost no drafters, project administrators, office managers, or administrative assistants. When any of these functions are needed they are supposed to be delegated to the newest junior engineers. But they keep leaving so I find myself, as project manager, doing all of this except the drafting, and I would do that too if it wasn’t too late to learn CAD 40 years into my career. I probably spend a good 8 hours a week on unpaid administrative work, sheltering the junior engineers from this so they don’t leave. I am burnt out and planning to leave the company myself at the end of the year after getting a major deliverable out. It seems like most companies are moving this way though so my engineering career is probably over.

RE: Is it normal for engineers to get pulled to work production

I'll echo everyone else that in my experience engineers doing standard production work isn't normal outside of new employee familiarization training and strikes. The only time I've even come close to doing extended production work (more than a few training hours) was prior to a potential strike when my company asked for volunteers to work production at a different location should the strike actually materialize. If I recall correctly, the schedule included mandatory, but paid overtime (either 10 or 12 hour days, I don't remember which). I think it was a halfway decent deal if you had a boat payment or something and needed extra cash.

One thing I'd recommend doing is meticulously keeping track of your time* so that if you fall behind on your actual job, it's easy to show why ("I won't be able to get that project done on time. As shown in the time records that I keep, I've been spending 30 hours every week working production and thus have little time to do my actual job."). Whether you choose to combine this with refusing to work unpaid overtime is up to you. I'd recommend doing so, but I don't know how precarious your personal and financial situation might be and whether you can risk getting fired. It also sounds like it wouldn't be a bad idea to update your resume so it's ready to go just in case (either for being fired if you push back or if you're laid off since your company sounds like it could be a little shaky).


*an excel sheet with some pivot tables/charts is a relatively easy way to do this.

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