Google’s X skunkworks division has posted three dozen jobs lately seeking people with experience in the fields of industrial and manufacturing engineering. At first glance, that might indicate the tech giant is finally building its own cars in-house, but it’s not that simple.
Hop on Google’s careers site, type in “self-driving car,” and you’ll feast your eyes upon dozens of open engineering jobs. Clearly Google is looking to bring in talent. But one subset of engineering is very prominent in the listings, and that is industrial/manufacturing engineering. Here are a few of those listings:
Here’s what Reuters (via Automotive News) said on the subject:
Google, which declined to comment, has denied in the past that it had any interest in making cars. Many industry experts believe the tech giant will partner with an established automaker, supplying the software that will pioneer the fully autonomous vehicle.
But the jobs listed provide a window into how much hardware Google may build to contribute to the cars of the future. Developing self-driving cars has been a key priority of traditional automakers, technology companies like Apple Inc., Uber Technologies Inc. and auto suppliers.
So Google wants engineers with manufacturing expertise, meaning it’s building its own car, right?
Not really. Google has already communicated that it’s not interested in building their own cars, and there was even talk of a partnership with Ford recently (though we don’t know what happened to that.)
What Google’s manufacturing-related postings probably mean is that they’re seeking experts to help them design and package their components for manufacturability on a large scale. Engineering a car for ease of assembly is a very difficult processes, one that starts at the beginning of a vehicle development timeframe.
Design doesn’t just guide the manufacturing process, but the manufacturing process guides the design. It goes both ways, and industrial engineers bring expertise to ensure that the car develops into something that is production-feasible.
Google can’t simply throw a car together in CAD, send the file to a plant manager, and expect them to build it. Any car needs to be engineered from the onset with a clear manufacturing plan in mind, and for that, seasoned manufacturing engineers are crucial.
Where I worked as an engineer at Fiat Chrysler, the group that ensured that a car was designed for manufacturability was called “Advanced Manufacturing.” They had a representative at every major design review to make sure some 22 year-old straight out of college didn’t decide to package an auxiliary pump in a place where no line worker could possibly reach.
Developing a car without understanding the sequence of assembly and how each part is attached to the car is downright impossible. Things that manufacturing engineers think about include:
1. Does a line worker have to push in clips by hand? If so, have you used your CAD software to ensure that a 95th percentile male hand will fit in that space?
2. If a line worker has to tighten a bolt, is there space for him or her to get the ratcheting tool on the bolt?
3. Does a worker have to lift a heavy object more than 30 or 40 pounds? If so, you’ll probably need a device to assist them. Add that to the budget.
4. When the motor gets dropped into the car, will it run into anything while it’s being “decked?” Is there enough clearance between the motor and other sensitive items to handle the slop in the decking process?
5. Is there a special fixture needed to assemble the car? If so, are those off-the shelf fixtures, or do you have to build those yourself?
So hiring manufacturing engineers doesn’t mean Google’s building their own car, it probably just means the company is trying to make sure their designs are production-feasible on a large scale, and that the assembly process, wherever it happens, is both efficient and cost-effective.
Where they go with that will probably be fascinating to see.
Photo: AP Images/Tony Avelar