Are Engineers Ready to Go Mobile?

Derek Morris has spent a lot of time squeezed into tight quarters on small jets, physically lugging around a 17-inch laptop to access CAD designs or redlining paper drawings to determine exactly how to mechanically integrate a specific piece of avionics equipment.

Recently, however, Morris found a tool that obviates the need for both. Armed with the AutoCAD WS app on his iPad, Morris can scope out the terrain and do all the design markup on his mobile device from anywhere in the field, including the bowels of an aircraft. Not only is he unencumbered from hauling around heavy computers and drafting materials, he can also instantly send design changes back to headquarters so his colleagues can update the product record on the fly.

"It's the perfect tool for marking up and sending back changes live," Morris, avionics modification manager and engineer with Constant Aviation, told us. "You don't have to scan in markups on paper or send over emails and faxes. It's really a time-saving thing."

Morris is part of a small, but growing group of engineers that are fast discovering what many of their colleagues still have not. The near ubiquitous adoption of smartphones and, more recently, tablet devices, has opened the door to a flood of new mobile design tool apps serving up "bite-sized" pieces of engineering functionality delivered on a mobile platform. <?p ??>

We're not talking about full-sized CAD programs or high-end CAE and technical computing software. Rather, these new devices are ushering in a new genre of productivity tools meant to ease various aspects of an engineer's day-to-day tasks without serving as a wholesale replacement for their primary desktop systems and applications.

Despite the rapid-fire introduction of new app offerings populating both the Apple and Android app stores, many engineers remain skeptical, not wholly convinced a small mobile phone or tablet platform is fully capable of handling hardcore engineering work. Of even greater concern for some is the security ramifications associated with putting product development intellectual property outside the protection of the corporate firewall.

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