Welcome to Engineer Academy where we’re exploring an A to Z of Engineering – everything from acoustics to zoos.
In each episode, we spin the wheel to find out what type of engineering we’ll be exploring with the help of Engers, our engineering expert.
You can listen to the full series of the A to Z of Engineering here.
Let’s take a look at Quality Engineering.
Every organisation, wherever they are, is engaged in quality engineering – whether they know it or not. The very act of creating a product or providing a service involves wrestling with the challenge of delivering high quality. Because ignoring quality has almost always led to disastrous results.
Now you probably know what we mean by quality – it’s all to do with how good something is, and we generally want things to be the very best they can.
Quality is something right at the heart of engineering. If you look around where you are, you’ll see engineering and engineered objects everywhere – from roads and structures to the appliances, technology and clothes we use every day.
Engineering creates products, machinery and systems that solve problems – and the better quality these things are, the better the problems will be solved.
So what does a quality engineer do?
Basically, they validate products for suitability, performance and safety. Suitability means does it do the job? Performance is it doing the best job possible? And Safety is, well, is it safe to use?
Safety is a really important factor. If you think about it, for medical equipment like pacemakers which regulate a patient’s heartbeat, poor quality could result in injury or even death. Likewise a new high tech material, however fashionable and warm, is no good if it easily catches fire.
Quality engineers are involved right from the start of any new manufacturing process. They will analyse processes, test materials at the beginning and created products during manufacturing, and again before anything is released for public use to make sure they work as expected.
Companies have standards and specifications for the performance and quality of their products – some of which may be required by law. When defects are spotted, they will report them as soon as possible so they can be resolved quickly and efficiently – after all, if problems are left too long, they can be harder to fix which costs time and money.
Quality engineers aren’t just involved in physical products – you’ll find them in almost every area of technology, including software, like when developing programmes that run self-service check outs in supermarkets.
Engineers will test user interfaces to ensure they not only register sales and take payment, but are also easy to understand and use. When there’s a software upgrade, they’ll check to make sure any changes don’t introduce bugs to old features.
Feedback from customers is often useful to make improvements. They’ll also use something called statistical analysis to help identify defects and problems. That’s a way of getting an overview of things – predicting where weaknesses may be and how problems can most efficiently be resolved.
Let’s take another example – wind turbines. When designing a new wind turbine, quality engineers will work closely with suppliers to ensure turbine parts and components are perfect – produced exactly to their product specifications.
They not only help with the manufacturing process, ensuring all blueprints and legal requirements are met, but will also help determine if a proposed site is acceptable and identify any problems that could impact the quality of operation – for example, extremes of weather on a hillside or out at sea. Once in operation, quality engineers will oversee maintenance of the turbines, making sure that repairs are done properly and analyse problems to see if they could be resolved in the manufacturing process. All of this with the aim of getting the best, most efficient, highest performing – and safe turbine to provide our energy.