What is a quality engineer?
A quality engineer ensures that products, services, and processes meet specified quality standards. They are necessary for a company’s operations, spanning various industries, including manufacturing, software development, and construction. They play a pivotal role in reducing errors, enhancing productivity, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
At the heart of their role is the drive to improve systems and procedures to meet or exceed customer expectations and regulatory requirements. By leveraging their skills and knowledge, they contribute significantly to creating and delivering superior products or services.
Duties and responsibilities
The key responsibility of a quality engineer is to oversee the various stages of the production process to ensure adherence to predetermined quality standards. They are tasked with identifying and rectifying flaws in products or processes, conducting routine inspections, and maintaining accurate quality assurance documentation.
They are responsible for initiating and implementing quality improvement strategies and methodologies. They also perform root cause analysis on defects, recommend corrective actions, and monitor the effectiveness of implemented solutions.
The work environment for a quality engineer largely depends on the nature of their employer’s business. They can operate in various settings, including laboratories, manufacturing plants, and corporate offices. In each case, the work is predominantly desk-focused, with the engineer likely to spend much of their time interacting with computer systems to perform tasks such as data analysis and report writing. However, site inspections are also a common aspect of the job, which requires spending time on factory floors or equivalent production environments. It’s also worth noting that the job can sometimes involve exposure to harsh conditions, such as noise, vibrations, and temperature extremes.
Typical work hours
Like many professions, quality engineers typically work regular office hours from Monday to Friday. However, additional hours might be necessary due to project requirements or periods of high demand. It’s also common for these engineers to be on call to address any sudden quality issues in the production process. This can occasionally mean working during evenings and weekends. For some industries, schedules revolve around shift work.
How to become a quality engineer
This career guide section outlines the steps to becoming a quality engineer, including education, work experience, certifications, and mastering essential skills for the role.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma
Like most professions, a high school diploma is the initial step to becoming a quality engineer. At this stage, students should pay close attention to subjects like mathematics, physics, and computer science. These subjects are integral to understanding the basic principles and tools used in engineering and quality control.
Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering
Earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial, mechanical, or another engineering discipline is crucial for becoming a quality engineer. Focus should be placed on courses that offer insight into manufacturing processes, quality assurance, project management, and statistical analysis. This academic foundation is pivotal in understanding, implementing, and maintaining quality standards.
Step 3: Gain relevant work experience
Most employers prefer candidates who come with hands-on engineering experience. Entry-level engineers often work under the supervision of experienced engineers, learning about product development, manufacturing processes, and quality control procedures. This practical approach enhances skills, deepens theoretical understanding, and can offer exposure to various industry standards.
Step 4: Obtain a master’s degree (optional)
An optional next step is to earn a master’s degree in quality assurance, engineering management, or a related field. It can provide a competitive edge in the job market and enable you to take on leadership roles within quality assurance and engineering teams. It also hones critical thinking and problem-solving skills – which are essential in identifying and rectifying quality-related issues.
Step 5: Secure industry-specific certifications
Acquiring industry-specific certifications demonstrates commitment and proficiency in the field. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) offers several highly recognized certifications such as Certified Quality Engineer (CQE), Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, and Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence. These can add significant weight to your candidature.
Step 7: Seek employment
You can start applying for quality engineer positions upon meeting the necessary educational requirements, gaining suitable work experience, and acquiring relevant certifications. Create a professional resume highlighting your education, knowledge, skills, and certifications. Tailor your cover letter to each job role, underscoring how your skills align with the employer’s requirements.
How much do quality engineers make?
Quality engineer salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The demand for quality engineers in technologically advanced sectors, their specialization, and the criticality of their role in ensuring product standards will also impact compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Pharmaceuticals – $88,500
- Telecommunications – $87,600
- Aerospace – $86,900
- Software Publishers – $86,200
- Computer Systems Design – $85,300
Highest paying states
- California – $102,960
- Washington – $98,520
- New Jersey – $96,280
- Maryland – $94,650
- Virginia – $92,750
Types of quality engineers
Below, we highlight the various career types and areas of specialization for quality engineers, providing an overview of the different roles and what each entails.
Software quality engineer
This specialization focuses on ensuring the standard of software products or processes. Software quality engineers are usually involved in the whole software development lifecycle, checking for errors and faults and helping to rectify them. Typical responsibilities include developing quality assurance plans, conducting audits, and performing software inspections.
Manufacturing quality engineer
Specializing in the manufacturing sector, these engineers work to improve the quality of products produced in a manufacturing plant. They usually inspect the manufacturing process, identify deficiencies, and suggest ways to improve quality. Tasks for this job include implementing quality standards, overseeing product testing, and organizing training sessions for other staff on quality control procedures.
Supplier quality engineer
In this role, engineers focus on the quality of products obtained from suppliers. Their responsibility is to ensure that materials purchased from suppliers meet the necessary quality standards, safeguarding product and process quality. They conduct supplier audits, negotiate quality standards with suppliers, and manage non-compliance issues.
Process quality engineer
The duties of a process quality engineer revolve around enhancing the processes used to develop a product or service. They are critical in ensuring that processes are streamlined and consistent so the final product meets the desired quality standards. This role typically involves designing process checks, conducting process audits, and working toward process improvement.
Product quality engineer
The main focus of these engineers is the final product. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the product meets or exceeds the set quality standards. Typically, their duties include performing product inspections, evaluating client feedback, and devising strategies for quality improvement.
Top skills for quality engineers
This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a quality engineer.
Being a quality engineer requires astute analytical skills for examining data from different perspectives, drawing logical conclusions, and finding optimal solutions to improve product quality or manufacturing processes. They must be able to spot patterns, identify core issues, and use this information to make well-informed decisions for better system performance.
Mastery of problem-solving skills is a must. In the course of work, a quality engineer will likely encounter unexpected difficulties and inefficiencies. Overcoming these obstacles requires innovative thinking and a systematic approach to dissecting and resolving problems. Comprehending the root cause and framing effective solutions are integral to the role.
Communication and collaboration abilities
Honing communication and collaboration skills can greatly enhance a quality engineer’s career success. These skills facilitate sharing feedback, ideas, and innovative solutions with team members and stakeholders. Clear articulation of thoughts reduces misunderstandings and fosters a constructive work environment – nurturing progress and enhancing productivity.
Knowledge of quality standards and regulations
A clear understanding of quality standards and regulations is pivotal. Quality engineers need the competency to stay updated with local and international quality standards and regulatory requirements. Strict adherence to these guidelines aids in ensuring product compliance and customer satisfaction, thereby establishing a strong market reputation.
Quality engineers also need a robust set of technical skills. Understanding the technologies associated with the products or processes under scrutiny is vital. Being adept with software and tools designed for quality control and analysis aids in performing duties more efficiently and accurately.
Quality engineer career path
Starting as a quality engineer, you’re likely working directly with designing manufacturing systems and processes to manage the quality standards of products and services. As you gain experience and broaden your skill set, there are several avenues for career progression. The growing industries and technological advancements have opened up many doors for quality engineers to advance in their careers.
Once you have a few years of experience, you could progress to a senior quality engineer or team leader role. These rules involve overseeing other engineers, taking on additional responsibilities, and leading projects to adhere to quality measures successfully.
With more experience and proven leadership abilities, you could ascend to the role of a quality manager or director. Responsibilities for these jobs include managing an entire quality division, making strategic decisions, and implementing quality assurance policies.
Another direction your career can take is branching out into related fields. You might choose to move into other areas of engineering like process engineering, reliability engineering, or operations management – roles that benefit from a quality assurance background. You can also explore auditing, risk assessment, or consulting positions. Ultimately, your chosen path will depend on your interests and goals.
Graduate-level education and related certifications will increase your chances for upward career movement. For instance, earning a Master’s in Quality Management or obtaining professional certificates, like a Six Sigma Black Belt or Certified Quality Engineer (CQE), could boost your prospects and broaden your opportunities. These additional accolades will distinguish you from your peers and position you for advancement.
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Position trends and outlook for quality engineers
Quality engineering is an evolving sector – witnessing significant changes in recent years. The onset of Industry 4.0 has tremendously amplified the role of quality engineers, who are now expected to be adept with advanced data analytics, automation, and smart manufacturing practices. These changes are reshaping the landscape of the profession.
Companies are now looking for quality engineers who can contribute to the manufacturing process’s planning, design, and development phases rather than merely providing quality checks at the end of a production phase. This shift reflects the increasing importance of cost-effectiveness and efficiency in production.
The surge in remote work has also created a new challenge for quality engineers. They are now wrestling with maintaining the same level of quality while coping with operational changes. Developments in virtual inspection tools and digital twinning are leading this drive.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of quality engineers is projected to increase 12 percent over the next decade along with other industrial engineers. The BLS attributes this growth to the need for individuals who can navigate the increasing number of regulations and standards and oversee quality systems for companies. This, combined with the ongoing trend of companies looking to employ quality-centric strategies to reduce waste and improve efficiency, will keep these jobs in high demand.
Quality engineer career tips
Understand regulations and standards
As a quality engineer, it’s critical to become a master of industry regulations and standards. Keeping current with changes is vital, as your work ensures that the company’s products meet these specifications. Prioritize familiarizing yourself with ISO 9001 (Quality Management System standards) and any other standards relevant to your specific industry.
Master statistical analysis and data interpretation
Quality engineering involves dealing with large volumes of data used in identifying issues and creating quality assurance plans. Proficiency in statistical analysis helps you understand trends and solve problems – necessary to provide meaningful insight.
Gain experience with quality assurance tools
In-depth knowledge and experience with various quality tools, such as cause and effect diagrams, control charts, flowcharts, and histograms, among others, are important. These tools aid in analyzing and providing solutions to quality-related problems.
Build a professional network
Networking with other professionals is beneficial for career growth. Some professional associations that can help you network include:
- American Society for Quality (ASQ)
- Society of Quality Assurance (SQA)
- International Register of Certificated Auditors (IRCA)
With ever-changing technology and industry standards, continuous learning is essential to success in this career. Consider these options:
- Subscribe to industry publications to stay up-to-date with the latest trends
- Attend seminars and workshops in unfamiliar areas
- Pursue advanced certifications like Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) or Certified Six Sigma Black Belt
Where the quality engineer jobs are
- General Motors
- Tesla, Inc.
- Lockheed Martin
Top job sites
What skills are required to become a quality engineer?
A strong understanding of engineering fundamentals and principles is a prerequisite. Good problem-solving and analytical skills are key because a significant portion of the role involves identifying flaws and devising strategic improvement methods. Superior communication skills are needed as these professionals often need to relay complex information to various teams. Proficiency in industry-specific software and technology is also beneficial.
What does a typical day of a quality engineer look like?
A typical day might involve assessing manufacturing processes, performing quality audits, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes. They liaise with production and engineering teams to better understand procedures, develop and manage quality test systems, compile and evaluate data, and identify trends that might impact product quality. Regular meetings and planning sessions, documentation review, and report writing, may also be part of the daily routine.
What degree or training is needed to become a quality engineer?
Most quality engineers have a degree in engineering or a science-related field. Training in subjects like statistics, calculus, and physics is helpful. Many engineers also undergo training and acquire certification in quality control processes, such as Six Sigma or other similar productivity and quality management methodologies.
What is the role of quality engineers in product development?
Before product development, they often participate in the design phase to ensure all quality standards are met, and potential issues are addressed ahead of time. Throughout the production process, they conduct audits, perform inspections, and monitor the production outcomes to ensure the final products meet the quality standards. They help troubleshoot any issues, implement corrective actions, and suggest improvements to systems and processes.
What is the work environment like for a quality engineer?
The work environment can vary greatly depending on the industry. Some may work in office settings, while others may be on manufacturing floors or labs. The position often requires extensive team collaboration, but portions of the work are conducted independently. Depending on the type of product being manufactured, safety precautions may need to be taken and personal protective equipment may need to be worn.
Do quality engineers need a certification?
While not a strict requirement, earning a certification like Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) can demonstrate your proficiency in the field and commitment to the profession. It may also enhance job prospects and career advancement opportunities. Some employers may prefer candidates with this or similar certifications.
How do quality engineers interact with other teams?
They often work closely with other teams, such as product design, manufacturing, and production. They may need to clarify specifications, troubleshoot issues, and communicate production issues to appropriate parties. In some cases, they may need to interact with suppliers and customers to understand their needs and difficulties with the product. Thus, strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential in this role.
What are the most challenging aspects of working as a quality engineer?
One of the most challenging aspects may be resolving quality issues swiftly and efficiently while minimizing production downtime. Implementing new quality processes or making necessary changes to existing ones may also be demanding. Dealing with unexpected obstacles at various stages of product development and balancing competing priorities, deadlines, and expectations can add to the challenges of this role.