This is an interesting discussion about purchasing vs engineering entering into price negotiations. My second tech editor job was with Electronic Buyers' News (EBN) in the very early 90s, where I learned first how important purchasing was to the (mostly electronic) component buying process and then later, in the mid 90s, how PMs were disappearing from the process and engineers were taking over purchasing functions. Looks like the pendulum has swung back to engineers for at least some of these duties.
As an engineer, I would prefer to go back to a simpler time, when price and availability were the responsibility of the Purchasing department. However, at many companies today, upper management expects (and sometimes demands) that everyone try to uncover cost reductions and that every department (including engineering) bring some type of cost reduction savings to the table. At first, this was an uncomfortable role, however, as time went on, I appreciated learning from our Purchasing group and developing this skill set.
@Greg: Price negotiations should be the responsibility of the purchasing department. I don't see anything praiseworthy in a purchasing department that delegates its role to already-overworked engineers.
Supporting the purchasing department by identifying cost-reduction opportunities is one thing, but it's a real shame when engineers have to get involved in commercial issues.
Thanks for the clarification, Ann - it is nice to see that while your comments were not derived from this study, the data you included: "Quality, performance, and reliability were the top three factors chosen by survey respondents" certainly indicates that it is reflective of the current trends you mentioned. Thanks for a great article!
Greg, good point about the price negotiations engineers must also perform, in addition to everything else. Seems to me that engineers are starting to look a lot like the Renaissance men and women of US manufacturing.
Nancy, thanks for your input about engineers' multiple roles in materials selection. To clarify, my comments about the return to quality in US manufacturing were not derived from this study, but from what we've been hearing and seeing from many different sources.
Good point, Greg. It makes sense, though, that the engineer be involved in price negotiations. That person would be most aware of the price flexibility at the supplier. Also, that engineer would know what flexibility her or she has when it comes to structuring an efficient relationship with the supplier. Offering an efficiency flow can help the supplier cut costs.
Very good article. In addition to all of the multiple functions mentioned, engineers also have obtain cost reductions from their suppliers and often have to perform price reduction negotiations. Not only do engineers have to be technically savvy, they also have to have a sharp business mind as well.
Most mechanical and structural engineers understand materials on the basis of our Strength of Materials and our metallurgy classes in college. They (we) look at tensile and compressive strength, modulus of elasticity, Rockwell hardness and a few other characteristics. Beyond that, we're out of our depth and most of us admit it.
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