The industrial revolution was a catalyst for the manufacturing industry. The invention of the assembly line not only enabled mass production of goods, but it also provided a foundation for linear processes in manufacturing and transportation of materials. Since the early 20th century, plant operations have been established throughout the U.S. Plant managers and engineers have since played an important role in the design, installation, maintenance and upgrade of complex manufacturing and material processing operations.
Plant operations span across multiple industries which require material fabrication and process, including:
• Automotive: U.S. is a major player in the domestic and international automotive industry. Car manufacturers are some of the largest employers in the country. With numerous plant operations throughout the country, plant managers and engineers play an important role in maintaining productivity and enhancing overall industry profitability.
• Consumer Goods: From food products to electronics to household necessities, the consumer goods industry is perhaps one of the top producing sectors in the U.S. Plant managers are not only responsible for maintenance in order to prevent production breakdowns, but they are also required to effectively manage resources and reduce costs in order to meet companies’ financial performance goals.
• Energy: This sector employs plant operations to process oil extractions as well as transport energy source to consumers. Plant managers in this sector possess a wide range of skills and experience from process design for material separation to bulk material handling and transportation to wastewater management.
• Industrial Products: Plants in this sector focus on the production of industrial products ranging from heavy machinery to steel production to wood and paper products. Because these industries are cyclical in nature (dependent on economic performance) and require complex machinery, maintenance, process improvement and cost optimization are major priorities for plant managers and engineers.
• Natural Resources: From pit to port, mining is a process heavy sector. Plant managers and engineers are not only responsible for optimizing mineral extraction/separation processes, but they also have to deal with strict environmental regulations. Mining operations are huge consumers of water, energy and land and therefore have the potential to create negative impacts in the environment.
• Utilities: Water and wastewater treatment plants require expertise of plant managers and engineers to ensure water is safely delivered from the source to consumers. As water scarcity becomes a growing concern, water and wastewater plant engineers play a huge role in ensuring the operations comply with environmental as well as safety regulations.
Because many industries have plant operations, students who wish to pursue a career in plant engineering have a number of job options following the completion of their post-secondary training. Skills such as machinery, process design engineering, asset management, health and safety management can be applicable across multiple industries. Students can enroll in a program focused on one of these topics or they may want to enroll in an industry-specific program that has a plant management or engineering component. Depending on a student’s skills and aptitude, a college program isn’t for everyone. An apprenticeship program is ideal for those who prefer hands-on and on-site training and promotion through experience.
For more information on plant management in a specific industry, students are encouraged to contact professional associations for plant management to speak with an industry expert.