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What's the Toughest Challenge of the Year?

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Beth Stackpole
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In every challenge is opportunity
Beth Stackpole   12/9/2011 6:56:03 AM
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Like your list of the toughest challenges, Alex. In particular, I think energy efficiency and the digital factory ones present the greatest opportunity, if engineering organizations can work through the host of process problems and technical kinks that will likely erect barriers to adoption. I'm not sure I'd agree that the trend around lower cost 3D printing presents a challenge--I would position that more as a great opportunity that burst out of the gates this last year.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: In every challenge is opportunity
Alexander Wolfe   12/9/2011 10:09:52 AM
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Thanks, Beth. I think what we see clearly here is that technologies with the biggest economic impetus behind them are the ones which catch fire most quickly. So 3D printing, which as you mention is not so much a challenge as a reality, is almost mainstream at this point, because it's gotten so cheap and accessible.  Energy harvesting is sparking interest because of the obvious savings on electricity costs, which are rising rapidly, as well as because harvesting is one way to ensure access to power.

Ann R. Thryft
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Knowing more about more
Ann R. Thryft   12/9/2011 1:01:13 PM
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Thanks for a funny column full of good points. Having just written four "top such and such" articles for the first time, I can see how tough it is to pick the top 5 this or the most important 10 that. I think the macro-level takeaway I got here was that products, systems and jobs are all getting more integrated and more multi-disciplinary and we all have to know more about more stuff. Tiring, indeed. But also exciting.


Jennifer Campbell
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Re: Knowing more about more
Jennifer Campbell   12/9/2011 1:35:28 PM
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I have to echo Alex's enthusiam surrounding the employment issue he talks about here. It is definitely encouraging to see companies hiring "older" workers. While younger engineers may work for less money (and I can see where that may be more attractive to some employers), it has been my experience in every job I've ever had, that you learn by doing and by taking after the more seasoned employees. These "older" engineers are clearly assets and should be treated as such.

Rob Spiegel
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New wine, new bottles
Rob Spiegel   12/9/2011 4:00:12 PM
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Nice piece, Alex,

As for the digital factory, I think your last two points are the critical ones. High-value vendors are certainly selling upper-end technology, but mostly it's for the purpose of helping manufacturers increase productivity from the prototype to the customers dock. These are times when manufacturers can't spend money that doesn't translate almost immediately into some type of ROI. So there isn’t going to be much technology for the sake of technology like the late 1990s. I guess that makes your third point the strongest --  method of helping manufacturers speed up the prototyping through production processes.

 

Charles Murray
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U.S. talent
Charles Murray   12/9/2011 6:29:53 PM
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Good points, all. I particulatly agree, Alex, with your point about applauding companies like Siemens, who've gone out of their way to hire U.S. engineers. From the comments I've read over the past six months, I've become convinced that there's a lot of U.S.-based talent that can't find engineering work, and I suspect it's because of immigration acts that enable companies to employ foreign engineers in specialty situations. A lot of other engineering employers out there need to follow Siemens' lead.  

Greg Stirling
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What's the Toughest Challenge of the Year?
Greg Stirling   12/9/2011 10:30:16 PM
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Those are all good points Alex,  I think our highest priorities are employment and a stable economy.  Then producing more efficient and renewable power.  Then applying that to electric vehicles.

A breakthrough in stem cell research would also be a very welcome sight... bring it on.

Tim
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Tough challenge
Tim   12/11/2011 6:52:30 AM
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I agree with the tough challenges coming up in 2012.  If 2011 is an example, companies with high involvement in the production of energy efficient machines will be poised for growth in 2012.  How they deal with this growth will show what kind of company they are.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Tough challenge
Alexander Wolfe   12/12/2011 3:04:27 PM
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That's a timely comment, Tim. We have a Design News Radio show this Wednesday, Dec. 14, and 2pm EST, where we will talk with Siemens about energy efficient motors and drives. You can go here to register.

Tool_maker
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Gored Ox
Tool_maker   12/12/2011 4:12:36 PM
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Alex you have written an excellent article, with many salient comments, however I would like to add one. Unless we are able to restore manufacturing jobs to the US, all of the other things are irrelevant. 

In 1990 I was employed by a subsidiary of a Fortune 100 corporation. They were continually expanding, but never with brick and mortar. Only acqusition, followed by consolidation, plant closing and layoff. They sent thousands of jobs to Mexico and seemed to take a particular delight in eliminating union jobs. In a rash moment of foolishness I had the gall to question one of the engineers from corporate headquarters about the wisdom of this. (Titles were very big and important in this place, but I do not remember his title, but he was a much higher pay grade than me.)

At the time I was told there were tax advantages and even though the quality was less and the deliveries poor that would all pick up with experience, because these were unskilled work. When I asked if he was fearful of engineering functions following the production he laughed and said that could never happen. Today we know better.

I do not know how to reverse the trend, but as I said at the outset, without the return of manufacturing, nothing else will matter.

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