Industrial Production Managers - What They Do

Industrial production managers plan, direct, and coordinate the production activities required to produce the vast array of goods manufactured every year in the United States. They make sure that production meets output and quality goals while remaining within budget. Depending on the size of the manufacturing plant, industrial production managers may oversee the entire plant or just one area of it.

Industrial production managers devise methods to use the plant's personnel and capital resources to best meet production goals. They may determine which machines will be used, whether new machines need to be purchased, whether overtime or extra shifts are necessary, and what the sequence of production will be. They monitor the production run to make sure that it stays on schedule, and they correct any problems that may arise.

Part of an industrial production manager's job is to come up with ways to make the production process more efficient. Traditional factory methods, such as mass assembly lines, have given way to “lean” production techniques, which give managers more flexibility. In a traditional assembly line, each worker was responsible for only a small portion of the assembly, repeating that task on every product. Lean production, by contrast, employs teams to build and assemble products in stations or cells. Thus, rather than specializing in a specific task, workers are capable of performing all jobs within a team. Without the constraints of the traditional assembly line, industrial production managers can more easily change production levels and staffing on different product lines to minimize inventory levels and more quickly react to changing customer demands.

Industrial production managers also monitor product standards and implement quality control programs. They make sure that the finished product meets a certain level of quality, and if it doesn’t, they try to find out what the problem is and solve it. Although traditional quality control programs reacted only to problems that reached a certain significant level, newer management techniques and programs, such as ISO 9000, Total Quality Management (TQM), or Six Sigma, emphasize continuous quality improvement. If the problem relates to the quality of work performed in the plant, the manager may implement better training programs or reorganize the manufacturing process, often on the basis of the suggestions of employee teams. If the cause is substandard materials or parts from outside suppliers, the industrial production manager may work with the supplier to improve their quality.

Industrial production managers work closely with other managers of the firm to implement the company's policies and goals. They also must work with the firm’s financial departments in order to come up with a budget and spending plan. They work the closest with the heads of the sales, procurement, and logistics departments. Sales managers relay the client's needs and the price the client is willing to pay to the production department, which must then fill the order. The logistics or distribution department handles the delivery of the goods, often coordinating with the production department. The procurement department orders the supplies that the production department needs to make its products. The procurement department also is responsible for making sure that the inventories of supplies are maintained at proper levels so that production proceeds without interruption. A breakdown in communications between the production manager and the procurement department can cause slowdowns and a failure to meet production schedules. Just-in-time production techniques have reduced inventory levels, making constant communication among managers, suppliers, and procurement departments even more important.

Work Environment

Most industrial production managers divide their time between production areas and their offices. While in the production area, they must follow established health and safety practices and wear the required protective clothing and equipment. The time in the office, which often is located near production areas, usually is spent meeting with subordinates or other department managers, analyzing production data, and writing and reviewing reports.

Many industrial production managers work extended hours, especially when production deadlines must be met. In 2008, about a third of all workers worked more than 50 hours a week, on average. In facilities that operate around the clock, managers often work late shifts and may be called at any hour to deal with emergencies. This could mean going to the plant to resolve the problem, regardless of the hour, and staying until the situation is under control. Dealing with production workers as well as superiors when working under the pressure of production deadlines or emergency situations can be stressful. Corporate restructuring has eliminated levels of management and support staff, thus shifting more responsibilities to production managers and compounding the stress.

Education & Training Required

Many industrial production managers have a college degree in business administration, management, industrial technology, or industrial engineering. However, although employers may prefer candidates with a business or engineering background, some companies will hire well-rounded graduates from other fields who are willing to spend time in a production-related job, because experience in some aspect of production operations is needed before one advances to upper management positions.

Some industrial production managers enter the occupation after working their way up through the ranks, starting as production workers and then advancing to supervisory positions before being selected for management. These workers already have an intimate knowledge of the production process and the firm's organization. To increase one’s chances of promotion, workers can expand their skills by obtaining a college degree, demonstrating leadership qualities, or taking company-sponsored courses to learn the additional skills needed in management positions.

As production operations become more sophisticated, an increasing number of employers are looking for candidates with graduate degrees in industrial management or business administration, particularly for positions at larger plants where managers have more oversight responsibilities. Combined with an undergraduate degree in engineering, either of these graduate degrees is considered particularly good preparation. Managers who do not have graduate degrees often take courses in decision sciences, which provide them with techniques and statistical formulas that can be used to maximize efficiency and improve quality.

Those who enter the field directly from college or graduate school often are unfamiliar with the firm's production process. As a result, they may spend their first few months in the company's training program. These programs familiarize trainees with the production process, company policies, and the requirements of the job. In larger companies, they also may include assignments to other departments, such as purchasing and accounting. A number of companies hire college graduates as first-line supervisors and promote them to management positions later.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)

Today, companies are placing greater importance on a candidate's interpersonal skills. Because the job requires the ability to compromise, persuade, and negotiate, successful production managers must be well rounded and have excellent communication skills. Strong computer skills also are essential.

Industrial production managers must continually keep informed of new production technologies and management practices. Many belong to professional organizations and attend trade shows or industry conferences where new equipment is displayed and new production methods and technologies discussed.

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