It's fashionable in some circles to proclaim that the way to success is to break the rules.
In engineering, sometimes you have to follow the rules—the internal ones, the corporate procedures that dictate how a design moves through an organization from concept to shipped product.
There are plenty of those rules, from configuration control to the way you get a part number. But, says Maurice King, a lot of engineers don't follow them. Those who don't are dragging their companies down.
King knows what he's talking about. A mechanical design engineer early in his career, he migrated to manufacturing, and over the last quarter century has held key manufacturing and engineering positions at three companies, and also worked as a consultant. Today, he runs manufacturing at a New England-based marine-equipment supplier.
"Engineers are the top dogs in most companies," King says. But he believes that too often they view other internal functions as obstacles.
Anyone who takes that view fails his companies and himself, and is arrogant.
The arrogance can show itself in many ways. One example: The assignment of part numbers. King has seen many instances where engineers create new part numbers when they start a project despite the fact that the company may already have part numbers for the components they want to use. It's easier than looking up the existing number, but it adds confusion, duplication, cost, and slows down production.
And then there's manufacturing as a whole. Despite the move to concurrent engineering, many engineers, he says, still don't try to anticipate manufacturing problems in their designs.
In some ways, that same arrogant attitude permeates many other departments in manufacturing companies, from marketing to research and development. But, engineers, as the people closest to the product, should be better than that. They should set the example for efficient teamwork. If not them, who?
To be fair, engineers often get snubbed themselves, especially by sales departments that promise unrealistic design-and-build schedules. Sales and other departments that ignore engineering realities and needs are dead wrong. And so are engineers when they ignore other department's needs, and internal procedures intended to streamline product development. Some companies have found ways to get engineers more engaged. At Lake Mayo, FL-based Faro Technologies, where much of the manufacturing of the company's measurement products is outsourced, Electrical Engineering Manager Andy Helm reports that engineers meet regularly with contract manufacturers. "They give us good-practice design rules, and we follow them," he says. "We can't always do what they want, but we always ask what we have to tweak to make their job easier."
Krebs Engineers, Inc., a Tuscon, AZ manufacturer of separation equipment, goes a step further. "We act as project managers," says engineer Mark Holmberg. "We not only do the design, we coordinate approvals, inspections, the timing of suppliers, and make sure the product is manufactured correctly."
That might appeal to King. "Engineers should be the leaders," he says. And when they are, the company prospers.