As an electrical engineer who spends his life talking to other engineers about technical problems, Maher thinks he has a handle on some of the technical challenges they face. Here are his views on two challenges: the distinction between energy and power, and the impact on innovation of shorter design times.
What are the major technical issues power engineers have? With all the new electronics products and power-delivery systems, the major issue is differentiating energy and power. It used to be the case that you could choose a battery to store energy and deliver power, but now you need other options.
Okay, then what is the difference between energy and power? Simply put, energy is what you deliver and power is the rate at which you deliver it. You store energy. You can't store power.
Why is it so important to make that distinction? The distinction is essential for efficient design. That makes it a big deal. For example, you may need short-duration high power, which would require a big battery. Digital cameras need lots of power for a short duration. In the standby mode, they need simple storage technology. In the automotive world, you could downsize an engine with the right combination of power and energy.
Do engineers you've worked with understand the difference between power and energy? Some don't. One of my jobs is to help them understand the difference. And it's available technology that makes the difference. Batteries used to be all we had. Now, we have ultracapacitors.
Is this a problem restricted to the U.S.? No. In fact, the U.S. has a better understanding of ultracapacitors than engineers in Europe, though the latter are leaning toward them in the automotive industry probably because of environmental pressures. Those who are most familiar with the technology, however, are in Asia.
What about other engineering issues? Design times, as everyone knows, are getting shorter. There often is no time to investigate and experiment with new ideas or new technology. Many engineers feel comfortable with what they know will work and feel they can't take the time to try new technology that may require a design change. That's all the more true with engineers and companies that believe they have to do their own testing before they specify a new technology.
Does the time crunch stifle innovation? It certainly could, but it hasn't changed the spirit of innovation. Look at new products that get introduced every year. One thing's for sure: If engineers had more time, they could come out with even more innovations.
Does the Internet play a role here? Yes it does. It helps. It allows engineers to be in touch with new technology in real time. They don't have to wait for new data sheets to come out. They can request samples over the Internet and get them quickly. They can even get applications assistance over the Internet. For example, we offer applications notes and white papers over the Internet.
Maher received his Bachelor's Degree in E/E from the University of California, San Diego.