Meet Katie, a project engineer at 3M
Meet Katie, a project engineer from 3M and a recent graduate of the Industrial and Systems Engineering program at the University of Minnesota. I sat down to interview Katie about her fascinating position on 3M’s corporate engineering team. Read on to learn more about what she does as a project engineer and what type of people tend to be better project engineers. Part two of the interview where Katie explains "Why 3M?" will be released soon!
Grace: Hi Katie! Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me about your position at 3M!
Katie: No problem! What is it you’d like to know?
Grace: Can you start off by telling me what your group at 3M does?
Katie: Sure! One thing that I think might help a lot is that I found a link to a website that describes the group I’m in, called corporate engineering. Within that group there are project engineers, mechanical engineers, designers, control system engineers, process electrical engineers, and facilities engineers. Everyone in corporate engineering supports the design and fabrication of new equipment for 3M. What that looks like in the broader sense of 3M, is that corporate engineering is not tied to a specific division within 3M. Every corporate engineer at 3M gets to focus on a breadth of products from adhesives, to abrasives, to filters, which we lay out in what looks like a periodic table. My group supports separation and purification sciences (SPSD), which means we focus on filters. For example our products can be found in Coke Freestyle machines or in products that oxygenate blood.
Grace: So does your team only work with filtration products?
Katie: Yes, all of corporate engineering supports all of 3M, but the project engineers each have their own division to support. I work with SPSD, a friend of mine works with film, another friend does personal safety. All of the other engineers that work in corporate engineering come together to be a part of your team and actually create manufacturing equipment.What is really cool about 3M though is that we have all of these innovative consumer products, but behind that we have engineers that design and build custom machines to produce our products. That’s what really makes us Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, or 3M.
Grace: What is the role of a project engineer in the corporate engineering group at 3M?
Katie: What project engineers do specifically is that when the plants come up with some sort of improvement or a new product is being launched, they submit an engineering work request. They submit their request to the project engineering managers, who delegate the requests to engineers like me. As a project engineer I ask questions like: What needs to be in scope? What will the budget be? What kind of engineers do we need to pull into our team to make this happen?
Katie: A big part of every project is the scoping phase. During this time, we figure out how the project is going to happen by visiting the plant and creating a project proposal. Then we present the proposal in order to gain funding for the project. If the project gains funding, then I manage the execution of the rest of the project. My job is to manage my team of engineers as well as work with the plant to figure out how to meet their requirements. Project engineers can also have a large influence on the designs because I am the one that is driving the process, and ensuring all of the boxes get checked.
Grace: You said that there are cycles that you go through during projects, but what does a typical week look like for you?
Katie: Because every project is different, every week is different! I spend a lot of time during the weeks in meetings with people from all across the world. I spend most of my time talking with and collaborating with other people, but another significant portion of my job is creating documentation, reviewing designs, managing project schedule & budget, conducting safety reviews, and giving updates to stakeholders. That's the typical week. During installs, it's completely different. I may be at a plant for a day or two, or maybe a week or two depending on how large of a project it is, supervising contractors and my team as we execute the installation of equipment!
Grace: So you are the person that decides the schedule?
Katie: yes, it's very flexible. I figure out what we need to do although there are some things that are required like safety checks. That’s always something that happens because it's very important. Other than that it really varies.
Grace: You mentioned earlier that you visit plants, what do you do when you visit a plant?
Katie: I support eight different plants across the US and one in Mexico. What project engineers do when they visit the plant is either scoping, which means surveying the space and existing equipment, or installs, when the equipment is actually going in. While on cite it's my responsibility to continue to coordinate scoping and install activities with ongoing plant work. We don't want to hinder production. Install is like the pinnacle of every project. It can actually get kind of crazy. Sometimes the equipment is so large that you have to put a hole in the wall to get it into the building.
Grace: What qualities does a person need to be successful in this position?
Katie: To be successful you have to really be able to prioritize yourself. You need to understand what needs to happen for each project. You need to be able to balance that as well as understand what needs to happen first. We end up with quite a few projects. I know other employees with upwards of forty or fifty projects.
Grace: All at once?
Katie: Yeah! At the same time! There is always a lot of work to do. If you like to be busy this would be a good job for you. That’s really true of anyone in corporate engineering. But 3M does a great job at not giving you too much. My manager is always checking if I have too much or I want more work, or even if I need any help.
Katie: I’ve also noticed that most project engineers are good at communication and documentation. It takes a lot to create a cohesive team and keep them on track to achieving our collective goal. That’s why documentation of our mission and requirements is really important. If you get everyone to agree on what the goal is you have an easier time managing expectations.