Career Insights – Manufacturing Production Process Engineer

Parker McHenry is a UF alum who graduated in 2021 with an Industrial and Systems Engineering degree. McHenry was kind enough to share insights from his time as a student and his professional journey.

Can you provide an overview of your career path since graduation from UF? How did you get started in your current field or industry?

I work at Daimler Truck North America (DTNA) at one of our Freightliner truck plants near Charlotte, NC.  I started my career here as a Manufacturing Production Process Engineer.

I was discouraged as I didn’t have a job going into March 2021 after applying to 50+ companies. After meeting with a Career Coach in the Career Connection Center several times, I realized the importance of networking and looking for something that interested me rather than just trying to get a job.  I reached out to everyone I knew from birth until that point, and sure enough, I talked to the right people.  A great family friend was able to help me get a job at Daimler.  

I had no idea what I wanted to do so I just jumped on the first good opportunity and ran with it. It has helped me narrow down what I like and what I don’t like. 

Has anything about your role/work surprised you?

Being in a plant is different than I expected. I told my dad growing up that I never wanted to work in a plant. I thought it would be noisy and boring. While it is noisy, it is far from boring. There is always stuff going on, as we run almost around the clock with 1500+ employees.  I have been promoted and received significant increases throughout my time with the company.  

I have had many great experiences at my current job. In my first two years, I learned more about mechanical, electrical, and automation engineering than I thought I would throughout my career.  

How did your classes prepare you for the work that you are doing now?

The classes I have found most helpful in my field are Visual Basics in Excel.  I use this almost daily and am currently the best person in my plant at VBA.  Every manufacturing company wants to see LEAN manufacturing, Agile manufacturing, or Six Sigma. I took a LEAN class with Professor Landrum, which was awesome and my first introduction [to the content]. Afterward, I read The Toyota Way, which was probably the best next step, and I would recommend it to anyone.  

Could you describe a typical day or week in your current role? What are the key tasks and responsibilities that you handle on a regular basis?

My day is chaotic. In college, I was not a morning person. Now, I wake up at 5 a.m. to drink coffee and have an hour of quiet learning.  I leave for work at about 6:30 to get to work around 7. 

I usually spend the first 30-60 minutes of my day checking emails from 2nd and 3rd shift and people out of our corporate office in Portland to see what I need to catch up on and eat my breakfast. If emergencies may cause downtime, I get to these first.

I’ll wear my steel toes and safety glasses and head to the line. I usually start to get phone calls and stopped by people as I head to the emergency, pointing out other emergencies. I am prioritizing emergencies as we determine which are the most important.  This may last the entire day until I head home around 4 p.m.

If it quiets down, I will work on projects, attend project-related meetings, and meet with tooling suppliers to discuss potential project opportunities. This could include equipment improvements, process improvements, tool installation, and quality or safety-related projects. 

What have you learned from this experience?

From this work environment, I have gotten more experience than people at other plants who have worked there for about ten years.  I have also sharpened my skills by being able to fix anything while learning the ins and outs of automotive.  

What sorts of things were you involved in, or what kind of experiences did you have during your time at UF?

I was heavily involved in Dance Marathon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) while at UF.  As someone who was on Marathon Relations, working with high schoolers around the state of Florida, I have translated some of my skills to the professional world. I am currently the head of STEM at my plant, and we work with an elementary school.  We meet with them once a month as they are finishing up different subjects in science and we have a fun day of hands-on learning.

I never had an internship. I wish I did, just to experience a new city and learn about a different part of engineering but I never had one.  

Are there any emerging trends, technologies, or developments in your industry that you find particularly exciting or challenging?

Everyone is always talking about machine learning and AI. There is still a very long way to go for an industrialized version of this equipment, for the most part. However, vision systems have come a long way and so have collaborative robots. I’ve been very impressed with Cognex vision systems and their ability to easily distinguish between items or orientations based on 15-20 pictures and labels. I have also been very impressed with Fanuc’s collaborative robots being able to learn movements after training one time.  

The largest gap that all manufacturing plants face is standardized work. There is an untapped market for AI software that can video a person in a workstation, do a time study, and create a standard work based on movements and parts assembled.  I believe this would hopefully allow for an actual live version of SWI and would help eliminate the manpower needed by process and industrial engineers. If anyone is interested in that field and good at AI, please contact me; I think we have a multimillion-dollar company on our hands.

What professional development opportunities or certifications have you pursued to enhance your skills and knowledge in your field?

One thing that I have done well within my company is networking. I used to laugh at my friends who graduated in finance who said they were “exhausted from networking all day,” but building relationships is the most critical part of any job.  Everyone emphasized the importance of building meaningful relationships, so from day one at my company, I tried to branch out to all areas of DTNA.  I work my way to the top and bottom of the corporate ladder.  The production workers are the only workers in the company doing added-value work and producing what our company sells. They are also experts at building trucks, so they are hands down the most essential part of our company. However, the people at the top have the most influence.  I have had several mentors throughout my career. So far, they have guided me through challenges within my current role, where to go next, and how to achieve my dream of living and working abroad.

After graduating, I completed my Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which required a fair amount of studying.  I also did some courses offered through the Shingo Institute.  I have investigated getting my Six Sigma Black Belt, an MBA, Lean Expert Certification, and my PE (Professional Engineer).  I am interested in pursuing an MBA when the time is right and I have the finances. A PE would be a great addition to my resume if I want to broaden my engineering background.

By Gabby Diaz-Portalatin
Gabby Diaz-Portalatin Career Pathways Coach