Chicago--Maybe we make too much of anniversaries, but as we planned for the 10th annual Design News Engineering Awards banquet here on March 11, I couldn't help thinking about the many changes that have occurred in the world of design engineering since we started this program a decade ago.
From our current perspective--the seventh consecutive year of economic growth--perhaps we've forgotten the nagging fears and overall malaise that enveloped manufacturing in 1987. Our auto industry was reeling from the on-slaught of Japanese imports that had won a gleaming reputation among American buyers for quality and user-friendly features. The aerospace industry was devastated by lagging airliner sales, the end of Reagan's defense buildup, and the shock of the 1986 Challenger disaster. Foreign competitors--particularly the Japanese--were challenging our traditional lead in computers and electronics. And we were asking why our factories couldn't match the speed, efficiency, and flexibility of our foreign counterparts.
Combine these and other dismal events of a decade ago, and it is no wonder that the pundits were writing story after story about how "the U.S. was destined to become a second-rate technological power" by the end of the 20th century.
That was the environment in which we started the Design News Engineering Awards program and our nonprofit Engineering Education Foundation. We wanted, at least in some small way, to declare that America's technology was still capable of leading the world and that design engineering was still a highly-prized profession.
Many of the OEM's best companies joined us in that quest, and over the years have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our awards and foundation programs--most of the money going for scholarships to engineering schools designated by the outstanding engineers whom we have honored. Three companies alone have given a total of more than $400,000: the Torrington Company, Schneeberger Inc., and NTN Bearing Corp. Others that have joined them in giving thousands of dollars to the education foundation, or prizes in our Excellence in Design Contest, include: the MacNeal-Schwendler Corp., Omron Electronics, NMB Technologies, Inc., Computervision, BASF, Microsoft, Intergraph, Deltron, Apple Computer, Toshiba, Bose, and Edmund Scientific.
Moreover, the engineers we have honored with major awards since 1987 have been in the forefront of a remarkable turnaround for the U.S. economy and U.S. technology. To cite just a few examples:
Key figures in the rebound of America's auto industry: Jack Telnack, father of the Ford Taurus; Jay Wetzel, who built Saturn's quality image; and Francois Castaing, the engineer who fueled Chrysler's comeback.
In aerospace: Burt Rutan, whose vivid imagination has spawned planes ranging from the world-touring Voyager to innovative business jets; Harold Rosen, a pioneer in communication satellites; and Alan Mulally, the man behind Boeing's new 777.
In medicine: the late Rowland Redington, who revolutionized diagnostics with new MRI and CAT machines; Victor Poirier, inventor of heart-assist devices that have given new hope to thousands; and Dean Kamen, who not only developed a badly needed portable dialysis machine but has made technology come alive for high school students through his nationwide U.S. First robot design program.
No matter the field, from autos and automation to computers, electronics, and telecommunications, the last ten years have brought enormous progress.