John Stack is President of Edmund Industrial Optics, a leading supplier of optics and electronic imaging products. Over the past 12 years, he has held several positions with Edmund, including: applications engineer, optical design engineer, VP of engineering, and executive VP. During this time, John has designed optical and machine vision systems for applications such as semiconductor metrology, biometrics, pharmaceutical packaging, automotive assembly, and biomedical systems. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and holds a BS in Physics.
A trend running through many industries today, including optics and optoelectronics, is cost consciousness. The need to fit within tight budgets and to develop clearly profitable products means design engineers must be highly competent within their area of expertise and good at communicating with others outside their discipline.
Design News: What is the most important technology trend today in optomechanical equipment or electro-optical design?
Stack: Cost reduction. While this isn't a technology itself, it does provide the drive needed to employ new technologies. Other technology trends include component miniaturization (which is also cost-related), and detectors with higher resolutions.
Q: What role is outsourcing design engineering services playing for customers?
A: In this economic climate, outsourcing is crucial. Most companies are throwing all their resources at maintaining and developing their core capabilities. If design engineering is not one of these core areas, a company cannot afford to develop the competence in-house. A reliable and communicative partner is the best solution when money is tight.
Q: What are the greatest challenges facing these design engineers and their customers today?
A: Managing with less money, of course. Like everyone else, they are dealing with tighter budgets. Design engineers need to collaborate more effectively to reduce component costs.
Q: What skills are most important for such design engineers to have today?
A: Design engineers must have strong communication skills—they cannot afford not to communicate their needs and capabilities effectively. Design engineers must also be willing and able to equate financial payback, in other words, return on investment to their designs.
Q: What are the keys to product innovation?
A: Design engineers need open lines of communication with the customers. In addition to asking and answering the standard, necessary questions to get the work done, they should also be able to explore the product needs with the customer and discuss "outside of the box" solutions. Great innovation starts with asking insightful questions.
Q: How are such customer concerns factored into a product design?
A: Customer concerns are addressed early on in a product design and play a large role in the final product. The design engineer always performs a balancing act; between the ways the product fills the intended function and overall customer need and user ergonomics. Striking the right balance often makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful product.
Q: What role do suppliers play in your design process?
A: Suppliers play a critical role for us—and again, this is a result of both our core competence in design and manufacturing and a result of good communication. Because our design engineers know how and where a component will be manufactured and the tolerances expected from that supplier, the designer can provide proper tolerancing the first time through. This results in new designs robust enough to be used in both the prototype phase and production phase of manufacturing without requiring re-tolerancing.