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Engineers don't operate in a vacuum

Engineers don't operate in a vacuum

To succeed in the next century, engineers will not only have to keep up with evolving technology, but be keen observers of the real world, says Swanstrom.

Design News: What qualities does Penn Engineering look for in engineers today?

Swanstrom: The most important qualities an engineer can possess are those that suggest an inherent interest in learning and in contributing fresh ideas and insights for us and for our customers. We look for creative and eager individuals who can address the challenges presented by a global marketplace and respond with timely and innovative approaches to fastening products and applications. Of course, those who have a passion to advance their own careers and capabilities will recognize there's always something new to learn and will constantly take advantage of the many resources available to further their knowledge.

Q: What skills will engineers need to be successful in industry as we move into the new millennium?

A: Engineers must keep pace with the rapid changes in technology and applications, because these changes will impact on how well they perform in their own careers and how well they can serve emerging design needs. Engineers think in 3D and, therefore, competency in engineering software is essential as engineers can now design and test their concepts in 3D. Continuing education and awareness about evolving technology is paramount, as is a need to remain open for insights based on "real-world" observations that can translate subsequently to application advances.

Q: Will engineers be under increasing pressure to shorten product-development time?

A: Absolutely, since time-to- market is such a driving force, and the timeframe from idea to product introduction is shrinking. As Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems noted during a recent interview, "You're either the bug or the windshield." Component suppliers and their engineers have to be able to respond in this fast-moving and competitive environment if they are to gain and sustain ongoing business from OEMs, who face their own pressures in bringing product to market.

Q: How important are project-management skills for engineers?

A: Today's engineers do not--and should not--operate in a vacuum. In fact, the team approach is very much alive and well. Internally, engineers need to be able to develop project timetables so that a design can be delivered on time, while allowing for input from all relevant departments ranging from Quality to Manufacturing Engineering. The road to successful project development for today's design engineers is paved with planning and coordination.

Q: Regarding fasteners, how is Penn Engineering dealing with the trend to reducing parts, including fasteners?

A: While in some cases the number of individual fasteners required in a unit may have decreased with the goal to reduce parts, the number of units utilizing our fasteners generally has increased at a greater rate--and this has more than offset any reduced fastener count experienced in our business. We have further been successful despite this trend, because the number of applications for our PEM(R) self-clinching fasteners continues to rise for sustained total volume growth. Perhaps most importantly, we have always operated on the premise that "less is more," and a primary benefit of our mainstay self-clinching fastener products is that they are designed specifically to reduce the amount of required hardware in an application.

Q: What are the most important criteria engineers have when selecting fasteners?

A: Reliability should be the first consideration, combined with the ability to meet catalog or specified performance parameters. Quality is a given, although today there are still wide ranges of quality. Our defect rate was one of the lowest in the industry, even before we applied for and earned ISO 9000 certification, and we have just completed our QS 9000 certification. This further demonstrates our ability to meet worldwide quality requirements and standards. And we took these steps for ourselves -- to make us better --and to better compete in world markets.

Swanstrom has been with Penn Engineering & Manufacturing Corp. for more than 38 years. His experience spans a wide variety of positions at literally every level of the company within the engineering, manufacturing, and sales functions. He was elected president and COO in 1979 and was elected chairman/CEO/president in 1993. In 1998 he relinquished his duties as president, while retaining the positions of CEO and chairman of the company's board of directors. Swanstrom attended Georgia Institute of Technology and holds eight fastener and machine patents. He is the co-developer of the Company's PEMSERTER(R) automatic fastener installation machine.

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