Surf this site, and you'll get an eyeful about interdisciplinary engineering, miniaturization, and the rise of end-to-end tool chains.
Such discussions are really just meat on the bones of a far simpler question, which we posed to the members of our Systems & Product Design Engineer group on LinkedIn: "What's changed most about the design engineering profession in the past decade?"
For Eric Niemi, an applications engineer in Milwaukee, the economic constraints of recent years have had a big impact. "It's doing more work with less personnel," he says. "Many more designers are responsible for all aspects of the product, from design to drawing creation to data entry. The days of throwing it over the wall are over. Project management has become part of the job."
What he sees as an overemphasis on the bottom line also bothers Arun Ramaswamy, an engineer working in the United Arab Emirates. "The powers of decision making have been taken away from the engineer and put into the hands of the accountant," he says. "Engineers and designers have been degraded into glorified CAD people. It is all about money and cost control now, [not] design engineering."
For David H. Lewis, a partner at Revolution NMR in Fort Collins, Colo., times are actually looking up. "Manufacturing is coming back," he reports. "We just picked up a huge job that was being made overseas and now we are making the parts here. I know a lot of small companies that are sick of the stuff you have to deal with in China. They're coming home to have their parts made."
Many of the design engineering changes noted by our LinkedIn members result from technical advances. Anthony Kerstens, the owner of his own industrial automation business in Toronto, points to the increased use of 3D modeling.
Our own senior contributing editor Jon Titus believes the last decade has brought "good software at reasonable cost, software libraries and support packages from computer-chip manufacturers, and open-source code."