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Engineers work more with customers today

Engineers work more with customers today

Paino joined Greene, Tweed & Co. as a sales representative in 1966. He was named executive vice president and general manager in 1981. That title changed to president in 1989. He spends much of his time now directing the efforts of the company's newly formed Incubator Group, which develops new products and business opportunities for Greene, Tweed.

Engineers are much more involved with customers' products today, and do a lot more concurrent engineering with them, says Paino. There is constant pressure to innovate, but the engineer's job is still basically the same: design and build products that fill a need.

Design News: What are the major pressures engineers in your markets face today?

Paino: Our company is constantly challenged to provide solutions in seals, bearings, and connectors that operate at higher temperatures and pressures and in more hostile environments. The conditions the products work under get more difficult. So we are doing more concurrent engineering with customers and exchanging data over the Internet, doing more finite element analyses, and sharing ideas more rapidly.

Q: What pressures are customers putting on you and other vendors?

A: The pressures on us are turnaround and mean time between failure. Our customers want to improve the performance they provide to their customers. Major customers don't want to do incoming inspection. They want to trust us. Shorter lead times are important. Customers don't want to maintain inventory. Also, customers get involved in vendors' manufacturing processes, telling them where there's fat, and lowering vendors' costs and their own price. They don't want to pay for excesses.

Q: What are the major changes in the way your engineering customers do their job today vs five or ten years ago?

A: Today, there is much more concurrent engineering. Also, there is a lot more 3D design and finite element analysis. We can now lay out a seal and predict where it will fail. Ten years ago, we had to wait until the customer sent the seal back. There is a lot more rapid prototyping by customers today. And today we transfer CAD files to customers through the Internet.

Q: Has the role of engineers changed?

A: Our engineers get more involved with customers' products and with what the customers' customers want. But the engineer's job is still basically the same: design and build components and systems to meet a need.

Q: What are the most important skills engineers must have today?

A: They must be analytical, creative, have good problem-solving skills, and be able to think out of the box. Teamwork skills are also important.

Q: Are engineering schools giving their students the skills they need?

A: Yes, I think they are doing a good job. We have been delighted with the people we've hired.

Q: How can companies create a culture of innovation?

A: We have to encourage innovation but recognize that it won't always be successful. We have to applaud failure almost as much as we applaud success. We have to understand that current products won't necessarily satisfy customers' needs two years from now and that the ability to change is critical to our success. The status quo is the route to failure. There should be no penalty for trying and failing. Even if you fail, you have learned something.

Q: What's the next big engineering trend?

A: There will be an expansion of the current trends of early involvement in customers' projects and concurrent engineering. Also, sophisticated engineering tools such as 3D modeling and finite element analysis will be more available to the masses. Any engineer will be able to work effectively with those tools.

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