We know that design engineers are highly involved in selecting both the materials and the suppliers for their designs. But a recent Design News Materials Survey showed that they will be setting the parameters of many designs. Today's engineers have expertise that crosses multiple disciplines, and they're involved in multiple job functions.
A whopping 84 percent of the survey respondents said they determine the type of materials that will be used in their designs, and 64 percent recommend brands and/or vendors. Almost 70 percent make the final decision in selecting materials. When it comes to choosing suppliers, design engineers are doing almost everything except make the final decision; only 31 percent said they're responsible for that. Yet 80 percent specify, recommend, or influence the selection of suppliers, and 61 percent are involved in getting vendors on the approved vendor list (AVL).
Most respondents said their companies maintain an AVL. But vendors must do a lot more than compete on price to get on that list. Quality, performance, and reliability were the top three factors chosen by survey respondents. Price came in sixth, after delivery and previous experience. The emphasis on overall quality jibes with the renewed emphasis on excellence in US manufacturing. And the majority of engineers work in demanding application areas where quality, performance, and reliability are musts: industrial machinery, automotive and trucking, medical and healthcare, military/defense, and aerospace.
This focus on quality also connects with the shifts in the types of materials that engineers plan to use. The number of engineers who said they are increasing the amount of high-performance engineering plastics in their designs was about equal to the number maintaining their amount. Almost as many are boosting amounts of lightweight alloys as those maintaining use levels.
Engineers expect to increase their use in all the categories we asked about: injection molders, composites, ceramics, powder metals, foundries, die casters, specialty alloys, ferrous alloys, adhesives and coatings, standard polymers, engineering polymers, and elastomers. That means a lot of engineers will be considering a lot of new materials and new suppliers. Although injection molders may help them select many of those materials, the design engineer rarely leaves materials and supplier selection entirely up to the molder.
A large majority said their company's manufacturing function helps select materials. But that's only one indication that there's no more throwing it over the wall to someone in a different field of expertise. Most of today's engineers function in multiple disciplines. As product designs are becoming more integrated and pulling together different technologies and disciplines, so are their designers.
For instance, half the respondents work in mechanical engineering, and another 25 percent list that discipline as an additional area of expertise. Only 13 percent listed manufacturing engineering as their primary discipline, but 52 percent said it's a secondary discipline. Similarly, many more engineers listed materials engineering and electromechanical engineering as secondary disciplines than as primary disciplines.
And that's only the beginning. Secondary job functions are also a big part of the design engineer's work environment. In addition to product or system design, half the respondents are involved in R&D, and about the same number are involved in testing and evaluation. About a quarter are also involved in designing equipment for internal use or quality control.
Engineers are outlining design specifications; determining what type of solution they want; evaluating different products, brands, and vendors; and testing materials. Today's design engineers have a strong voice in selecting not only the materials but also the products and the vendors they want to use to turn their designs into reality.
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