Process Engineering, Industry 4.0 and the Importance of People

Edgar Gadar, Process Engineering Manager, at Navico’s global manufacturing plant in Ensenada, Mexico, turns a spotlight on the challenges of efficient process engineering, the importance of his team and a peek at the future…

I’ve been working for Navico or our associated brands in Ensenada for almost 24 years. During my time here, I’ve been involved in various different roles. I started my career in Manufacturing Engineering, then I became a Manufacturing Engineering Supervisor participating in the processes transfer of Simrad from Margate, UK to Ensenada and B&G from Romsey, UK, to Ensenada. Since 2018, I’ve been Process Engineer Manager leading 22 co-workers in our Ensenada factory.

These roles may sound similar, but the difference between Manufacturing and Process Engineering is quite big! Manufacturing is all about time studies, changing layouts, balancing lines and quality checks, whereas Process Engineering focuses on tools/equipment, work instructions, managing assembly lines controls, NPI activities and failure analysis.

Our process engineering team at Navico is made up of 22 people (9 Process Engineers, 10 Process Technicians, 2 Process Machinery Operators and 1 Material/tools handler) and we ensure that the assembly of our products is efficient, profitable, reliable and safe. I am proud of my team to meet production requirements and support the quality of the finished product. The safety of our teams working on the assembly lines is also of paramount importance.

We analyse assembly methodology, process assembly flow, the correct tooling equipment, as well as any possibilities of automating processes along the way. We also search for the best equipment/fixtures to support assembly and then train our assemblers how to use it.

When a new product or prototype is being developed, we work simultaneously to prep the assembly lines, brief the assemblers and ensure that the process is as synchronised as possible before we enter mass production. A lot of work goes into perfecting the process. We have three build stages plus the prototype phase. At each point, we are tweaking different things to optimise the process, improve the manufacturability and safety for our people.

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The importance of people

There is a perception that engineering is all about the performance of machinery and equipment alone. It’s my role to coach and upskill our Process Engineers – not necessarily give them the answer straight away. I encourage them to look for the right things on the assembly line and provide them with clues along the way.

It’s vital that we have a stable team in place. We need the best, most experienced people to support our production lines and ensure we receive no complaints from production or quality departments. The key skills we look for in people are good communication, awareness around the importance of customer service, proactivity in improving processes, a problem solving mentality, and passion. In this sense, I am lucky that we have a fantastic group of engineers and technicians that make our job as process engineers easy!

Having said that, the job isn’t always easy and product assembly can be tough work. The assembly for our new Lowrance Ghost trolling motor is a very labour intensive process. It’s a physically large product that involves six assembly lines and lots of heavy tools to assemble. It’s also the first trolling motor we’ve ever developed where everything is mechanical (i.e. there is no display). It has been challenging to develop a process of assembling all the different parts in a synchronised, efficient way, but we’re now in full flow.

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Looking to the future and Industry 4.0

A lot of people discuss where manufacturing and engineering is headed in the future. I recently went to a forum on the role of Industry 4.0 in manufacturing and it’s interesting to see many different trends that will (or already are) affecting the assembly line.

As process engineers, it will be our responsibility to upskill our technicians and assemblers and ensure they are comfortable adopting new technologies, digitally connected tools and analysing data (all major themes of industry 4.0) to make our processes even better.

We are already taking action on this. We are introducing new technology during the NPI of products to better control some critical operations like screw drivers, dispensing machines with robots, soldering robots, and the digital work instructions

I’m excited for what the future holds and there could be big changes along the way that transform our processes. We need to be up with other countries and factories where they are implementing this new technology in their manufacturing processes, for which training and investment will be required to achieve it, starting with the automation of current and future processes. Despite this, I know that our team here in Ensenada is ready to face these challenges head on.

Ends