When it comes to solving engineering problems, nothing beats being able to talk over the problems with other professionals who have wrestled with the same or similar problems and found a solution that works for them. It saves time, often it saves money, and it adds a certain comfort level that is really immeasurable.
In recognition of the value of peer brainstorming, there is a growing number of websites that let you network virtually.
Our own www.designnews.com/e2e is one such site, of course, where you can access webcasts, technical literature, and other material. On www.designnews.com, you can pose a question—or answer someone else's—by clicking on "Ask The Search Engineer." You'll find some very interesting technical dialog there on fasteners, software, motion control, and other topics.
Various industry organizations have websites that offer opportunities for online networking. The Motor and Motion Association (www.smma.org) includes access to technical reference materials. The Robotic Industries Association (www.roboticsonline.com) provides forums for engineers to ask and answer questions. And now, there is a new website that provides opportunities for engineers who spend their lives doing custom, one-off designs to trade war stories and lessons learned.
www.etoinstitute.org is the website for the Engineer To Order Institute, an organization with some 4,000 registrants who, as spokesman T. R. Cutler says, have up to now felt like Gilligan—stranded on an island where no one understands them.
Engineer-to-Order companies, says Cutler, are those that build unique products designed to customer specifications. Each product requires a unique set of item numbers, bills of material, and routings. Products are complex with long lead times, customers are deeply involved in the design process, and engineering change orders are a way of life.
Sound like a familiar working environment? Of course. Especially the part about engineering change orders. By many of the Institute's criteria, virtually every manufacturing company has at least some projects that are engineered to order. But Cutler says true ETO companies are exclusively oriented to custom designs, carry no inventory, produce low volumes, and organize design efforts as an integral part of production rather than completing design before production.
Those subtle distinctions aside, there are enough similarities between so-called "repetitive" companies and ETO companies that engineers in one can learn from the experiences of engineers in another. "They don't have to reinvent the wheel," Cutler says.
The site includes white papers, reports, news items, interviews, case histories, and a "Bulletin Board" where engineers can discuss topics and issues they are facing and find out if any one else has solved the problems they have. One of the topics on the Bulletin Board now is outsourcing and how it affects manufacturing companies.
There is also a "Latest News" section of the website with articles and white papers. One interesting item is on the application of lean manufacturing principles to engineer-to-order companies.
Cutler says the Institute's website is a community resource for helping engineers resolve tradeoffs, select the right software, and otherwise optimize their processes. Check it out through its own website or through a link on www.designnews.com, and see if you agree.
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.