Engineers of the future will do their work on voice-activated PCs, using
software that performs multiple engineering and business tasks. When they leave
the office, they'll relax watching HDTV in their homes.
These are among the predictions of Design News readers who responded to a special survey in the July 8, 1996, issue.
Most respondents, 80%, think routine use of voice-acti-vated PCs is a sure thing; 70% are betting on single software packages that will perform multiple engineering and business tasks, such as design, analysis, manufacturing, ac-counting, and word processing. Other technologies readers think may appear: voice-activated software that designs simple parts, virtual reality systems that operate without headsets, and thumbnail-size PCs.
Better engineering tools will likely lead to one thing: more engineering successes. Design News asked readers which products they think will be successfully designed in the next 50 years. The hands-down winner: high-definition television affordable by the masses.
More than three-quarters of respondents also believe af-fordable virtual reality sys-tems will be realized, along with pollution-monitoring technology to track offenders and cut emissions.
On the flip side, less thanhalf of those surveyed think these products will come to fruition: 100% recyclable cars; brilliant munitions, including rifle bullets that sense targets; jetliners that carry 1,000 or more passengers; and low-cost ($50/lb vs. today's $5,000/lb) launch vehicles.
Changing roles. A study conducted by Simmons Market Research Bureau Inc. shows that currently 45% of OEM design engineers are involved in research and development, and almost 82% discuss their projects with manufacturing early in the design cycle. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the Design News survey on future trends predict that design engineers will actually take on more responsibility for manufacturing operations. Sixty-five percent foresee more involvement in research and development. Specifying a broader range of components and materials was cited as the third-biggest change engineers will face in the coming years.
While a shift in engineering responsibilities may be at hand, engineering objectives will remain the same. The most important issue for design engineers in the future: reducing time to market, say 92% of respondents. Design for manufacturing and achieving the highest quality were close behind, with 90 and 87% of readers listing them as im-portant, respectively. Not to be forgotten is cutting product costs, which came in fourth with 85% of respondents rating it important.
Those views correspond with the Simmons report, in which 64% of respondents said shortening the design cycle has become increasingly im-portant. The same survey found 87 and 83% of engineers, respectively, believe ease of manufacture and high quality are important; while 73% noted a project's low cost as an important objective.
The places to be. Nearly a third of respondents indicated that computer hardware and software and telecommunications will be the industries to beat for engineering employment in the future. Similarly, just over one-third believe software development and electrical engineering will be the disciplines most in demand.
Both votes back up the assertion of U.S. News and World Report, which recently wrote: "It shouldn't come as a revelation that software is hot--or that the engineers who feed the hunger have become a precious commodity."
According to the Design News Annual Salary Survey (Engineering Gets Hot; July 8, 1996) article, software sales in the U.S. have averaged a 27% increase yearly since 1982; and last year's $35.6 billion in revenue from packaged software is expected to more than double by the year 2000.
Carnegie Mellon University reports that recruitment of its software engineering students is up by more than 20% this year. And of the 865,000 new positions for engineers and engineering managers expected by the year 2005, the American Association of Engineering Societies' (AAES) employment experts predict the most rapid job expansion will come in computer engineering. This segment, says AAES, will pass mechanical engineering to become the second largest engineering discipline. Still at the top of job providers will be the electrical and electronic engineering segment.
Even with mechanical engineering's projected fall to third-largest engineering discipline, the number of mechanical engineers will likely increase in proportion to the total engineering population, say nearly three-fifths of survey respondents. The largest percentage (35%) predict a modest growth of about 10%, while an optimistic 23% of respondents foresee an increase of 25 to 50%.
Making yourself marketable. One thing is certain, to keep up with increasing job competition, engineers will have to hone their skills and expand their horizons. The Design News salary survey notes that employers are looking for individuals who have experience in more than one industry, have worked with multiple products, are flexible, and have fine-tuned their interpersonal skills.
That means our readers are right on track with their predictions: Better design engineering skills and commun-ications skills vied for the top spot as most important for en-gineering success in the future. Both received a high rating from almost 90% of respondents. Manufacturing skills came in a close third with 83% of respondents viewing them as important, echoing readers' belief that their manufacturing responsibilities will be increasing.
Readers are also predicting a strong need for ex-pertise in several different areas. Materials and software tied for first, edging out electronics by a mere 1%. Com-puter hardware and mechan-ics trailed slightly with ratings in the 70th percentile, while chemistry fell far behind: Only 49% of respondents believe it will be important.
In addition to improving their skills, engineers will also have to boost their productivity. Today's design engineers work on an average of 15.2 projects peryear. More than half of survey respondents see that number growing by at least 25% in the coming years, with 15% of those predicting a 50% growth. Overall, 80% of those who answered predict a minimum 10% in-crease in their workload.
The road to success. A good education, whether gained in a classroom or through hands-on training, is part of what makes a successful engineer. Though both sources of education have their benefits, survey respondents showed a clear preference for hands-on training. In fact, 56% of readers cited more hands-on design instructionas the most vital change needed in engineering education. Other suggested changes, such as more basic engineering theory and team-building skills, lagged far behind with scores of less than 10%.
Even with the needed improvements in engineering education, the profession still has strong appeal. Nearly 8 out of 10 respondents to the Design News salary survey said they would chose the same career again. And, say 60% of this survey's respondents, design engineering will have more prestige in the future. That may have influenced the 67% of respondents who want their own children to become engineers, but their reasons may also lie here: Engineers are among those rare individuals whose work has a significant impact on the world at large.
"Americans must begin thinking in terms of civilizations if they want theirs to endure," says Bonnie Dunbar, astronaut, assistant director of mission operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and Design News' 1993 Engineer of the Year.
"How healthy is our civilization? Are we strong, or slowing down and growing old?
"Engineers have the power to lead public perceptions, and this power is not always properly applied. Fear of the unknown is the greatest threat to progress … The more people are familiar with science and technology the more comfortable they will be with them."
"In the '60s, '70s, and '80s there was a consensus that researchers could never have enough computing power," says Lester Davis, retired executive vice president of Cray Research, Chippewa Falls, WI, and recipient of the Design News Special Achievement Award in 1995.
"Policy-makers today ask, why do they need so much power? How much R&D will it take to create the next generation of supercomputers? Where is the money going to come from?
"If the government doesn't have the money, and industry is only concerned with money, perhaps the universities have the resources, talent, and vision to get the job done."
"Industry is well-suited tothe task of improving the livesof Americans in many ways," says Victor Poirier, president of Thermo Cardiosystems Inc. (TCI), Woburn, MA, and Design News' 1992 Engineer of the Year. Inventor of a life-saving heart pump that has been implanted in more than 800 people to date, Poirier says that private R&D is necessarily more focused on delivering a finished product people can use and often need.
"The market keeps TCI more focused on developing practical--and life-saving--technologies than government grants would."
"Technology is becoming increasinglyinteractive." So believes John Hench, senior vice president ofDisney Imagineering, Glendale, CA, and recipient of the Design News Special Achievement Award in 1996.
Hench observes, "Users will be more involved in their products.
"Engineering is essentially concerned with communicating ideas … The people who design these next-generation, interactive technologies systems wield enormous power."