Kara Frank

IMSE Undergrad Class of 2015

Altec Inc.


What does the company do? Altec is a leading provider of products and services (such as cranes, digger derricks, chippers, aerials, track units, and backyard units) to the electric utility, telecommunications, tree care, lights and signs, and contractor markets. We deliver products and services in more than 100 countries throughout the world. Altec Inc. is the holding company for Altec Industries, Global Rental, Altec NUECO, Altec Worldwide, Altec Capital, Altec Supply, and Altec Ventures, LLC.


Current role: Manufacturing Engineer


How I got to my current role:

  • Manufacturing Engineering Co-op (PBE) May 2012 – Aug 2012
  • Manufacturing Engineering Co-op (Altec) Jan 2014 – Aug 2014
  • Manufacturing Engineer Aug 2015 – Present


A day in life of a Manufacturing Engineer at Altec – No day is the same and every day is exciting and challenging, on both a technical and an interpersonal level. The production world runs by quarters and end of year push, as well as monthly and mid-monthly production goals.  Goals and tracking reset at the start of the year with new goals to beat the previous year. We run in several major departments and we must interact with all of these groups each and every day:


Manufacturing Engineering – responsible for processes, flow, and efficiency

Applications Engineering – responsible for design and functionality of units being produced in house as well as working with the customer

Quality Engineering – responsible for customer feedback, 90 warranty, controls and documentation, and in-house quality control

Materials – manages vendors, purchase components, raw components, and in-house supply

Product Development – designs new programs, units, components, and systems, and more on 1-5 year scales that launch publicly for Altec as new purchasable products

Production – the hands-on men and women that actually build our products from raw steel sheets and tubes to the trucks we roll out the door and provide to customers


The office is generally a flexible and family-oriented environment with office hours from “8 to 5”, but it is expected that you will do what is necessary for your job at hand. There are days or weeks where I can do the normal 8 to 5. There are weeks I run events and am there 6 to 6 or 8 or later. There are days I may change my work hours to help another shift as we run 24 hours (i.e. working 5am to 3:30pm or working 2:30pm to midnight). We do what we need to do to get the job done and get it done correctly. We have work phones as we are expected to be the first line of support to the floor and should be able to be reached at any hour by call, text, or email. While it’s not common to get a call at 11:30 at night or 6 in the morning, it is not unheard of. We also rotate through Saturday shifts to support production if we are behind our goal or need to hot-shot a customer revision through.


Our job can be narrowed down to 3 main categories.

Eliminate – Eliminate the 9 wastes in all that you do (inventory/cost, motion, defects, transportation, over-production, injury, time, over-processing, and under-utilization of talent)

Facilitate – Our team runs Kaizen events (RCI’s or rapid continuous improvements), production meetings, support meetings, event meetings, fast response meetings, and more. We also help facilitate conversations that need to happen between groups and departments and run numerous trainings from technical floor skills to our Altec Production System Training for all associates and basic to advanced lean skills.

Advocate – Above all else, we are the voice for the floor. Every change we make, conversation we have, and move we take should be in the best interest of the floor and production. That’s why we’re here. And not only taking our ideas in their best interest, but utilizing their ideas. They live and breathe the production process and nobody knows their life and their struggles and concerns better than they do. Their ideas are creative and yet simple and boost morale better than any inspiration speech ever could.


It is hard to create a daily timeline, but my days or weeks usually follow one of the 3 basic schedules.


  1. Normal Production Support Week


7:30AM – Get ready for the day by reviewing the task list I created for myself that I need to accomplish today. Not all are concrete or small tasks. Check emails and mentally prepare myself to be an agent of change.

8:00AM – Mondays and Fridays go to a Plant meeting where RCI teams present our their events for the week and the changes they made. Otherwise I head right out to the floor with my steel toe boots, ear plugs, and eye protection for the morning production support meeting and address any immediate issues and resolve them then continue to work on floor support questions and chipping away at long term projects. At any point, I probably have 3 to 5 open larger projects that need attention and progress.

12:00PM – I usually attend the lunch of an event that is being run that week to understand their goals and steps to reach those goals.  These are thought of as “discussion lunches” to work with teams. After lunch, I head back out to the floor and keep working on issues, eliminating wastes, and working on projects.

3:00PM – Meet with production supervisors and management for a fast response meeting where we update the group on our weekly goals, where we stand, why we’re not meeting our goals (if we aren’t), and any larger issues not being addressed yet.

4:00PM – Attend the RCI Leaders meeting where the RCI leaders of the week present out on their decisions and progress for the day and their intentions for the next day.

5:30PM – Wrap up any projects I am working on and create the next days’ goals or task list for myself so I know where to head first in the morning.


*Some days are more technical, some days are more interpersonal, all days are active. You are constantly moving and conversing and planning. You learn to be a chameleon very quickly – be who you need to be and leverage different skills in each situation to get the best outcome.

**Also be prepared to have training scheduled that you need to facilitate or train associates on that can take from a ½ day to 3 full days out of your week.

*** Larger projects that could be included in your agenda range from facility planning to capital investment and machinery integration to Value Stream Map planning and execution to new process integration and anything else that has to do with production or the flow of the plant. Always new and exciting! If you see an opportunity, present the facts, estimated benefit, and plan of attack and do it!


  1. RCI Events

Event prep – 3 weeks prior to your event, 25% of your time should be spent on creating the major purpose, team, and outcomes. 2 weeks prior, 50% of your time should be spent on gathering all of the concrete information needed and outlining what specific measurable you want out of the week and honing in your newspaper (list of tasks to accomplish) and your team expectations and roles. 1 week prior, 75% of your time should be spent on finalizing goals, team roles, newspaper, information needed, prepping all parties involved, and visualizing where you need to be by the end of the week.

Week of event – Monday morning you kick off to the entire plant and present your teams goals. Then you coordinate and lead your team through the deliverables and measurables needed each day. At lunch, you lead the lunch discussion and update the larger group. Likewise at 4pm you give a report out on what you accomplished for the day and what you expect to accomplish tomorrow. On Friday morning you and your team give a presentation to the plant on what you changed that week – what was before, what is now, and why it was beneficial to change. These events can be extremely taxing or simple coordination, all depends on what change you are going after.

Event wrap up – 1st week after event, 75% of your time should be spend in the affected area monitoring and adjusting the changes made to make sure it is sustainable. 2nd week after event, 50% of your time should be spent in the area tweaking any minor portions of the change and starting to remove yourself from the upkeep, transitioning ownership to those that are in charge of the area and those that work in it. 3rd week after event, 25% of your time should be spent in the area primarily handing off ownership and sustainability to those who live in that area. Ownership is key.

60 Sustainment Review  – 60 days after your event, you present out to the plant how well the change has been sustained and what benefit has been showed thus far. Was it to your expectations? Do you have any open line items from your newspaper that were not able to be closed? Will this change need further monitoring?


  1. Product Launch Team Member

Other than the “schedule”, we follow during normal production weeks, when you are the Lead Manufacturing Engineer on a Product Launch, you are responsible for either taking care of or coordinating every detail of manufacturing for this new item. This includes but is not limited to: customer visits for expectations, design reviews for manufacturability and machine capability, prototype support and process evaluation, process standardization, production integration, quality documentation, testing procedure standardization, and any and all production support once the product is launched and running as a normal production unit. These projects can take anywhere from a highly accelerated 12 months to a normal cadence of 3-5 years. You still run events and facilitate floor support while you are on a Product Launch Team.


Why manufacturing engineering? For very active and go-getter individuals, this is the life. I am running around on the plant floor more than I am at my desk and I have the unbelievable opportunities to change the way the plant works. There is incredible trust if you have your facts. To be able to be a part of and run so many varied events is eye-opening. You learn about each department and their struggles and daily work life and gain appreciation for the way it all fits together. You are also held in a high regard as the primary agent of change. People come to you for help. People come to you for support. People come to you with ideas. Supervisors, production associates, upper management, all the same. It is incredibly satisfying to take these ideas, implement them in a realistic and sustainable way, and watch them reap the benefits of a faster, safer, more intuitive, less expensive, creative environment.


What’s the end goal? They say that Industrial Engineering is really the fast track to management, and they’re right. As a manufacturing engineer your path could be up through manufacturing leadership, plant management, general management, and beyond. It could also be through a move to quality or applications and up a similar progression chain. It could be through small team management or production supervision or to Project Management. There are no closed doors when you start in manufacturing engineering at Altec. Personally, I have passed my FE and am pursuing my PE for Industrial Engineering to utilize advanced lean techniques. There are always opportunities for management or supervision if you express interest. Take the wheel and go where you want.


Final Thoughts – You learn so much your first few years at your job and you learn it very quickly. I have 3 quotes pinned to my desk walls that guide what I do.

  1. “There are those that look at things the way they are and ask Why? Then there are those that dream of things that never were and ask Why Not?”
  2. “You have 2 ears and 2 eyes but only 1 mouth; listen and watch twice as much as you speak.”
  3. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Do not sell yourself short, do not back down from fear, and do not stop learning. What we do as manufacturing engineers affects so much more than ourselves and should not be taken for granted. Building rapport on the production floor with the associates can be the single most important thing you do to create and foster change. We really do use all of the fundamental lean skills and techniques and strive to perfect them and learn more. The teams rely on us to be the lean experts and to teach them.


Dr Byrd told us the first day of IE 220 class year – “I will teach you to be cranky with the world around you”, and he is a genius for it. Try not to literally be outwardly cranky, but realize how much potential is really around you and never settle for what is. There is always a better way and finding it is half the fun.

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