Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

Industrial manufacturing and industry

22 Jun 2023, 13:19

Manufacturing and industry is a major source of jobs for engineering graduates.

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Industrial manufacturing and industry is the biggest employment area for engineering graduates.

In a manufacturing environment, engineers are responsible for the safe and efficient planning, management and maintenance of production methods and processes, often working as part of a multidisciplinary team.

The most common engineering backgrounds in manufacturing are: mechanical , which involves the design, planning and development of machines and equipment; and electrical/electronic , which focuses on power generation and the development of applications which use that power.

There is, however, a huge overlap and mobility between engineering disciplines, as shown by the recent growth of mechatronics/electromechanical engineering, which integrates mechanical engineering with electronics in the design and manufacture of products. There are also some primary degrees that specialise in manufacturing engineering from the outset. Within manufacturing in Ireland, there are two distinctive categories of activity:

  • Direct engineering-related products and services
  • All other industrial manufacturing enterprises.

Direct engineering-related products and services

The direct engineering sector itself is made up of a wide range of companies providing a diverse range of products and services. Some of the main products are to be found in the areas of aerospace/aviation; agricultural machinery; and process engineering and instrumentation.


Engineers in the high-tech aerospace industry can expect to work in multidisciplinary teams. Aeronautical engineers will deal with the structural design and development of all flight vehicles, as well as their manufacture and maintenance. Vehicles can range from aeroplanes and helicopters, to missiles and spacecraft.

Electronic and control engineers are key to the development of control systems such as guidance and navigation. Specialist areas also include flight mechanics, aerodynamics, instrumentation and communication systems. Engineers also provide technical support and data needed for the ongoing development and maintenance of the various craft.

Other engineering activities include: specialist restoration of engines; manufacture of products such as seat covers, pillows and mobile towers for mechanical maintenance work; specialist aviation software and telecommunications, such as on-board internet access, in-flight entertainment technologies and digital documentation/wireless applications.

In addition to the need for a strong technical knowledge, other key requirements include creativity, teamwork, communication and a real enthusiasm for the job.

Agricultural machinery

Ireland has a small but strong agricultural machinery sector. Several Irish manufacturers are world leaders in specialised niche areas such as manufacturing mixer and feeder wagons for cattle or producing baling and wrapping systems. The market is almost entirely agricultural but also caters for amenity areas such as golfing. Manufactured products include grass balers, feed systems, cattle grids and dairy equipment. The sector comprises small owner-managed businesses and a few larger companies.

Process engineering and instrumentation

Ireland has a highly developed process engineering sector with an excellent international reputation. This area is engineering at its most precise, refined and technologically advanced level. Activities include the design, testing, installation and maintenance of automated systems, gas analysis/detection systems and test instrumentation. An important specialism is stainless steel fabrication: storage and process vessels with large capacities are custom designed, as well as heating, cooling, mixing and pressure vessels.

Another highly specialised area is the production of pipes, valves and fittings. Major clients include the fine chemicals/pharmaceuticals sector, among them top global companies. Other clients include the computer, electronics and automobile sectors. The presence of these international companies has been helped because the Irish process engineering sector has state-of-the-art manufacturing technology and stringent quality control practices.

Other direct engineering manufacturing sectors

You could also consider working in transport areas such as the automotive, rail and marine manufacturing industries, as well as construction equipment and products.

What degree do I need for this career?

The main degree subjects relevant to this area are:

  • Aerospace/aeronautical engineering
  • Control engineering
  • Electrical/electronics engineering
  • Manufacturing engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Others include: instrumentation, environmental, materials, mathematics, physics, software engineering.

Other industrial manufacturing and production

Industrial manufacturing falls into three main categories:

  • Chemicals, pharmaceuticals and plastics
  • Electrical/electronic/microelectronic and precision instruments
  • Food and drink.

The strongest growth areas continue to be in the chemicals/pharmaceuticals sector. Opportunities for engineers range from the design of automated systems, rooted in electronics and software disciplines, to traditional chemical engineering roles. The jobs are continuing to develop and evolve, with growth areas including biomedical product manufacture, plastics/polymers, ceramic and metallurgical engineering. The use of nanotechnology in materials engineering offers much potential with Ireland being a centre of excellence in nanotechnology research.

Increased consumer choice and environmental resource implications have led to an ongoing need for the development of innovative and cost-effective food production and food processing systems for the food and drinks industry. Bio-systems, agricultural and food engineers can play a big role in meeting this need.

The current focus on research and development is set to boost the manufacturing industry, and new careers are becoming available, particularly for electronic, mechanical, production and bio-systems engineering disciplines.

Industrial and manufacturing engineering offers many areas to specialise in. These include:

  • Tool design: inventing and designing tools for machines used in manufacturing processes.
  • Robotics: designing, developing and operating robotic systems for the automotive and spacecraft sector.
  • Industry management: developing new production processes, analysing manufacturing systems, risk analysis, and improvements to energy and operational efficiency.
  • Material process: measuring the performance of materials and components and establishing systems to plan and control manufacturing.

What degree do I need for this career?

  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electrical/electronic engineering
  • Manufacturing engineering
  • Chemical/biochemical engineering
  • Materials engineering
  • Bio-systems, agricultural, food engineering.

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