Two recent interviews clarify a trend that has been gradually emerging over the past few years: Engineers increasingly are using more than just their technical knowledge as they design products. They're also using their business knowledge and communications skills.
"Today's engineers must understand how technology fits into the business equation," said Spaulding Composites President Joel Beck in our May 4, 1998 "Guest Commentary" column. "Engineers must respond with creative solutions that not only address...technical criteria, but also fit business needs, such as delivery timetable or better cost-performance ratio."
Likewise, in our June 22 "Guest Commentary," Bayside Motion Group President Howard Lind said, "We want engineers who can communicate....The basics of communication are more important than ever."
The old stereotype of engineers working alone in a corner oblivious to anything around them but the task at hand was never universally true. But to whatever limited extent it might have applied to some in the past, it's definitely outdated today. It ended under the onslaught of increasingly complex design projects, shrinking time to market, and concurrent and team engineering.
Not that all engineers have found it easy to become experts in the art of interpersonal communications. It's not an art that's easily learned, and it's certainly not been a vital part of engineering curricula. But communications skills are not impossible to pick up either, nor are they frivolous. Anyone who thinks they are, better get over it.
Engineers are--and should be--the prime communicators in any manufacturing company. They alone, with their knowledge of components, materials, and how the physical world works, are in a better position than anyone to interpret what the customer needs, explain the possibilities to others, sell their designs to decision makers, and make it all happen. Those who grab the opportunity to do that will take their companies successfully into the next century.