You think your world has changed? Compare notes with this engineer who leads design efforts for latches, hinges, gaskets, and other critical hardware. The shrinking design times and increasing customer demands in his industry probably sound like your own.
You have been designing hardware for a long time. What are some of the changes in the industry you have seen in the last decade? One major change is the timeframe for design. When engineers started a cabinet design ten years ago, they often had a year before the cabinet came on the market. It's much faster now. In Europe, cabinet manufacturers had only four weeks to develop a cabinet for the third-generation mobile phones. Also, cabinet customers today aren't willing to make compromises. That means there is more customization today than before. More than ever, designs have to be visually appealing, and still offer the functionality and security customers expect.
Are manufacturers looking for modular designs today? Yes, but in truth, they were always looking for modular designs. They just couldn't get them. Today, they can, and that's important in this era where everyone wants a high degree of security and they want to do more monitoring. That's one of the reasons we developed the electronic latch—so customers can change from a tool-activated latch to an electronic one if they feel they need it.
With that demand for more customization and modularity, do you get pulled into design projects earlier today than in the past? We do, and that results in better products. Like all component suppliers, we find that when we get involved early in a project there aren't any changes down the line. We're able to work out issues before they become problems.
What about the growth of outsourcing? Manufacturers today are concentrating much more on their own core competencies, and going outside for everything else. They are expecting more from their suppliers, and expecting their suppliers to know their businesses. It all started in the automotive industry, and outsourcing is spreading. Two years ago, I was involved in a project with a major German automaker. The automaker says its cars are designed in Germany. But, they aren't manufactured or assembled there. Outsourcing is the future.
Does engineering software help? Yes. With CAD, engineers can change existing designs much faster. They also can check on functionality, and see if there are any design mistakes before committing to prototypes. They also save time making drawings. To take advantage of the increasing use of CAD, we developed a CD ROM with CAD files so designers don't have to worry about latch, hinge, or gasket drawings.
Is good design more important today than before? I think it's always been important. The designer is really the most important person in the company. He is the capital of the company.
Armin Fink has been CEO of DIRAK (Chantilly, VA) since April 2002. He has been with the company since 1994. He holds a degree in technical engineering from the College in Erlangen, Germany. He also has a degree in sales engineering.