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production engineering[prə′dək·shən ‚en·jə′nir·iŋ]
A branch of engineering that involves the design, control, and continuous improvement of integrated systems in order to provide customers with high-quality goods and services in a timely, cost-effective manner. It is an interdisciplinary area requiring the collaboration of individuals trained in industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, product design, marketing, finance, and corporate planning. In many organizations, production engineering activities are carried out by teams of individuals with different skills rather than by a formal production engineering department.
In product design, the production engineering team works with the designers, helping them to develop a product that can be manufactured economically while preserving its functionality. Features of the product that will significantly increase its cost are identified, and alternative, cheaper means of obtaining the desired functionality are investigated and suggested to the designers. The process of concurrently developing the product design and the production process is referred to by several names such as design for manufacturability, design for assembly, and concurrent engineering. See Design standards, Process engineering, Product design, Production planning
The specification of the production process should proceed concurrently with the development of the product design. This involves selecting the manufacturing processes and technology required to achieve the most economical and effective production. The technologies chosen will depend on many factors, such as the required production volume, the skills of the available work force, market trends, and economic considerations. In manufacturing industries, this requires activities such as the design of tools, dies, and fixtures; the specification of speeds and feeds for machine tools; and the specification of process recipes for chemical processes.
Actual production of physical products usually begins with a few prototype units being manufactured in research and development or design laboratories for evaluation by designers, the production engineering team, and sales and marketing personnel. The goal of this pilot phase is to give the production engineering team hands-on experience making the product, allowing problems to be identified and remedied before investing in additional production equipment or shipping defective products to the customer. The pilot production process involves changes to the product design and fine-tuning of unit manufacturing processes, work methods, production equipment, and materials to achieve an optimal trade-off between cost, functionality, and product quality and reliability. See Pilot production, Prototype
The production facility itself can be designed around the sequence of operations required by the product, referred to as a product layout. General-purpose production machinery is used, and often must be set up for each individual job, incurring significant changeover times while this takes place. This type of production facility is usually organized in a process layout, where equipment with similar functions is grouped together. See Human-machine systems, Production methods
The production engineering process does not stop once the product has been put into production. A major function of production engineering is continuous improvement—continually striving to eliminate inefficiencies in the system and to incorporate and advance the frontier of the best existing practice. The task of production engineering is to identify potential areas for improving the performance of the production system as a whole, and to develop the necessary solutions in these areas. See Product quality