There has been a lot of talk in the business press lately about "the new
economy" that has emerged and how it is changing the marketplace. Most recently,
Business Week described the trends that best characterize the new economy as
globalization of business and a revolution in information technology. What's the
impact on engineering?
Quite a lot, it turns out. And that's not surprising, considering the mutual
dependence between engineering and the economy. Each drives the other. The
fierce competitiveness globalization has wrought was among the factors that
several years ago sparked increased emphasis on innovation, greater
productivity, cost consciousness, and quality. Among results were the moves
toward design for manufacturability, concurrent engineering, and design teams.
At the same time, the product-development cycle rocketed time to market from
mach speed to warp speed.
Meanwhile, engineering advances have created new opportunities for employment
in such fields as computers and telecommunications, giving people the income
they need to buy more consumer goods, thus stimulating the economy further. Many
of those advances, in fields such as materials, electronic components, and
software, have given engineers new tools for developing even better products.
As a result, engineers are busier than ever. The most recent Simmons study of
the engineering universe sponsored by Design News shows engineers working on
about 18 projects a year. That's up from 10 about six years ago and 15 three
As remarkable as that jump in assignments is the broadening of responsibility
of the average engineer. Gone are the days when he or she could spend an entire
career in one little niche. Today's design engineers are the consummate
generalists. On any given project, they can find themselves choosing materials,
electronic components, fasteners, and a range of other components. And, the
Simmons study shows that they have growing involvement not only in product
design, but also in testing, research and development, quality control, and
in-plant design, among other areas.
That's the "new engineering." Always an exciting and fulfilling profession,
it's now even more dynamic, more varied. And it places greater emphasis than
ever on broad knowledge, flexibility, team work, creativity, and conceptual