100 ways to get ahead in your career100 ways to get ahead in your career
July 3, 2000
1. Move to 3D solid modeling
You think 3D CAD has made you more productive? You're right, but wait until you see what you can do with 3D solid modeling! It saves time and gives you more design freedom by letting you see the full ramifications of different design changes. "We get better products and save money with 3D solid modeling," says Electroglas Engineering Services Manager Jim Levante. "The aesthetics mean we see on the screen what we eventually get in the product," says Carlson Tool and Manufacturing Engineer Brian Wagner.
2. Benefit from collaborative design
"Often a full CAD design is hard for anyone but the original designer to understand," says Scott Beer, IT team leader, design and manufacturing applications for Sauer-Sunstrand. "But if you visualize the design as solids, in an environment where you can check for variation and interference and indicate changes, everyone gets a better idea-and you get more buy-in." Collaborative visualization requires preparation. You need to build a library of solids, a database to access them, provide access to your CAD program-and train people to use these tools. But it's worth the effort, Beer says.
3. Model the motion in your design
It happens all the time-the part works perfectly when it's isolated on the designer's computer screen. Then it fails when it's added to the full assembly. In motion, parts can lack the necessary tolerances or clearances to fit into the finished machine. So some packages integrate motion simulation into the basic CAD system, allowing engineers to test their parts during the initial design cycle.
4. Get the payoff from PDM
The more people who need access to design information, the faster you need the data, the closer you get to concurrent engineering, or the more accurate the data you want to get to manufacturing-the more you need PDM. "It takes five seconds to make two clicks on a menu and connect a CAD design to PDM," says Doug Horn, PDM manager for International Comfort Products. "In fact, if you don't have PDM and use it consistently, you'd need one extra person for every three designers-just to keep the versions straight."
5. Make your engineering software interoperable
You've finally finished that crucial CAD model for a big meeting with the client. But when you load the file onto the collaborative Internet session, his company uses different modeling software, and he can't open it. "There are very few companies building hardware or applications based on a single operating system," says Mark Silverberg, manager of the UNIX marketing and expertise center at Compaq Computer Corp. One solution is to use middleware-a catch-all term for everything that resides above the operating system and below applications and databases.
6. Integrate FEA into your design
In the old days, FEA was performed strictly by "black belts," the specialists in each company who would take over when the basic CAD file had been completed. But this can lead to scheduling bottlenecks, and to the mistakes that happen when one person tries to use someone else's work. Today's CAD programs are integrated analysis tools, including FEA in the same package, and allowing engineers to create more design iterations of their plans. And that allows them to get the best performing design in the least time.
7. Learn to marry CAD with CAM
Most likely, your CAD design goes to a CAM program to have the cutter path added, and then to CNC programming. Data incompatibility, irregular shapes, and the way the CAD program performs surface blends can cause problems. Tom Hoover of Woodland Pattern Inc. works with both CAD and CAM. "Our toughest problems come from blending multiple surfaces together smoothly," he says. "We have different software packages to tackle different file problems and we trade files back and forth among programs."
8. Make CAD a creative tool
Ed Weston, designer for Buell Motorcycles, says "Get the shape before you apply the math. Look for the tool set when you have an idea." Weston questions the value of parametrics, saying "Parametrics makes fundamental changes difficult. You need to know the end result before you start." Darrel Hamlet, director of physical design for Quantum Bridge, says "Start with the concept and the gross constraints. Meet your physical space requirements and work inward, within the assembly, as you add features and detail."
9. Get familiar with Linux
Linux is the hot new operating system (OS) that's billed as faster and more crash-proof than Windows. Its proponents are particularly proud that it is "open source," meaning that anyone can download the Linux kernel for free off the Internet, including all the lines of code, and then write new pieces of code to adjust it for their own uses. But how does the typical engineer jump on the bandwagon? "Run Linux at home; get used to it," advises Glenn Johnson, director of the Linux Program Office for Compaq Computer Corp.
10. Learn the advantages of CFD
CFD is at the crossroads between experimental testing and virtual prototyping, allowing engineers to crash-test virtual cars instead of physical ones. It can save time and money in any product design cycle, as it screens out faulty prototypes before an engineer has to go to the trouble of manufacturing them. It also models some forces that no other method can achieve, such as the effect of fluid flow through a heart valve, which deforms the valve shape, or the oscillations of transatlantic cables caused by the constant flow of ocean currents.
11. Unlock the power of UNIX
If you live in the 21st century, you use UNIX. From the infrastructure of all landline and wireless telephone networks to electronic fund transfers at the bank, the UNIX operating system controls it all. So the quickest track to becoming a valuable part of your company's computer infrastructure is to learn the language. Since UNIX has existed for close to 30 years, there are hundreds of do-it-yourself books to learn the essentials.
12. Learn about rapid prototyping
Racking your brain for the best way to present your design to customers or non-technical people in your company? The answer: rapid prototypes. Nothing explains your vision as well as a model they can touch, handle, and see in its actual size. Want time and cost savings on top of that? Rapid prototypes cut down the number of final-material prototypes. You can even use them as patterns for tool-making molds, test them for form and fit, and sometimes even for function.
13. Master Windows NT
Most of today's design applications run on Windows NT. You need to know how to use it to be totally productive. Darrel Hamlet, director of physical design for Quantum Bridge, says "Windows NT runs applications very transparently-but if you're switching from UNIX, don't underestimate the amount of RAM you'll need. We had to go from 128M bytes to a gigabyte. And if you like to do scripting and to automate some work with UNIX, you'll need application programs to do the same thing with NT."
14. Harness a power-packed PC
In today's rush to be first to market, many software companies neglect to edit their programs down to a manageable size, so they sell memory-intensive "bloatware." Computing challenges demand a lot of processing power. But even faster than a single, supercharged PC, a computer's power today is a function of the strength of its connection to networks and the Internet, says Brad Schrick, co-founder and marketing director of WebScope(TM). If you're going to buy one powerful thing, make it the server, Schrick says.
15. Master mechatronics
The need for an integrated approach to design has led to the development of the concept of Mechatronics-a design philosophy in which the designer or design team bridges the existing gaps between mechanical and electrical engineering and electronic information technology. "The line between electrical engineering and mechanical engineering can become very thin and, inevitably, the two disciplines overlap," says Erik Strand senior project engineer for the Chamberlain Group.
16. Investigate microengineering
While you may think of microengineering as involving design and fabrication of electronic integrated circuit chips, the technologies pacing microelectronics are also impacting mechanical systems. In the extreme, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are mechanisms fashioned from silicon using IC fabrication methods. These usually involve making a 3D mechanical device from successive 2D layers of silicon. Gear systems and electrostatic drives are just some examples of devices suitable for tight weight and volume situations such as spacecraft systems.
17. Use automation building blocks
Assembling different products from different vendors in automation means getting them all to work together. "When we hire engineers," explains Rich Manders, president of Automation Solution's Hartford, "we want someone who thinks on a systems basis. Being the glue that gets everything to work together is probably the most valuable talent you can have."
18. Learn to design for assembly
It can be as simple as noticing that slippery parts are hard to pick up, or that sharp parts are difficult to handle. And there are simple rules of thumb, such as substituting snap-fit plastics for adhesives and threaded fasteners. Design for Assembly (DFA) is used at Fortune 500 companies to make products from packaging to automobiles, to toasters, washing machines, and computer printers.
19. Ruggedize your design
As many of today's products become smaller and portable, they are also subjected to drops, bangs, and other types of activities dangerous to fragile internal components. If you design portable products, learning to ruggedize your product is an important skill for your career.
20. Make compact designs
From the kitchen counter to the factory floor, smaller is better. But don't stop at smaller. Make it more powerful, too, and design it to sell for lots less than it did last year. But creativity in design is why they pay you the big bucks, right? You say you can't make a keyboard or a control panel so small that customers' fingers won't fit? Find an alternate control method that doesn't require fingers. Creativity in compact design requires clear communication, a knowledge of what's new from reliable vendors, and a little extra effort.
21. Design for the environment
Socially responsible, forward-thinking design engineers consider the various ways that disposable and difficult-to-dispose-of products are costly. Design not only for manufacturability but also for disassembly, and use recyclable materials wherever possible. The bottom line: learn to think strategically. Rather than focusing on your cog in the overall wheel, understand how the product you're designing will be sold and used-and where it will spend its after-life.
22. Utilize supplier design centers
Sometimes, knowing where to get information is important to your career. Taking advantage of supplier design centers is good for you in several ways. Without adding staff, you get the advantage of additional expertise from design center personnel. Additional personnel focusing their expertise on your design-engineering project provides the advantages of a larger team, but doesn't necessarily incur extra costs. Many of the services provided are free.
23. Value alliances
"Ideas for products and solutions to problems often exist outside a company's field of expertise," explains Dr. Michael Waldman, president of Pragmatic Vision. For example, one company wanted to include moisturizers in its soap, but couldn't because no room existed in between the soap's constituent parts. But by using ultrasound during soap making, the components form crystals with space in between for the moisturizers. The soap manufacturer had no knowledge of ultrasonics, but nevertheless found its solution through technical alliances.
24. Tap into university research
In general, universities concentrate on doing basic research that will advance the state-of-the-art and usually has a broad area of application. The best way to tap into it is to establish good two-way communication with those in the field your firm is interested in. This could include project funding, work study programs for students, opportunities for faculty consulting, gifts or loans of equipment to the school, joint authorship of research papers, and hiring former students to complete what they started in the research lab.
25. Know when to outsource
There are times when companies need to outsource projects. The reason for outsourcing may be that parts of the project are outside of the company's core competencies. Or, it may be that the company may not have the internal capacity to meet objectives. Asks Katy Delaney of the Battelle Memorial Institute, "Are you prepared to share strategies and concepts?" Clarify your goals and define what you want to achieve by outsourcing." The plan should include assessing readiness to outsource, the amount of support required, and your firm's ability to build relationships.
26. Test designs with right device
Instrument capabilities today go beyond collecting data to logging, storing, and preparing data for presentation and readily sharing them across an organization intranet or the Internet. New capabilities to consider include voice control. Manufacturers are also boosting performance with ever increasing bandwidth, higher real-time sampling rates, and greater record lengths.
27. Use software as your test instrument
You're probably familiar with the Virtual Instruments (VI) concept, pioneered by National Instruments, which uses PC-based software as test instrumentation. Now Interchangeable Virtual Instruments (IVI) is a new standard for instrument driver software technology. It is being driven by the IVI Foundation, formed by National Instruments and other companies, to define standard specifications for programming common test instrument capabilities and to provide a robust framework for interchanging instruments.
28. Make sense of sensors
Today's smart sensors have minimal or no programming intervention-virtually programming themselves-cutting setup time and cost, as well as the need for setup skills. Once operational, they can also tell you when they need adjustment due to component degradation or from their environment-further reducing maintenance time and expense.
29. Harness infrared technology
While IR sensors measure heat, you must realize that where you position a sensor is key to its utility. Some examples: Smart sensor placement can minimize thermal lag effects in the heat transfer process but cannot compensate for any inefficiencies caused by long delays in heat transfer. Also, because a controller can only respond to the temperature changes it gets from a sensor, placement of the sensor affects the controller's ability to regulate temperature about a given set point.
30. Design in bar code scanners
Increasingly, these devices are being integrated directly into conveyor transport and sortation systems, test and inspection equipment, and medical devices. Scan engines, radio frequency technologies, and other peripherals bring performance advantages to existing and new equipment designs, both in data collection and information handling cap-
abilities. On the technology side, vendors are working to develop smaller, lighter, brighter, and faster scan engines.
31. Integrate low-cost vision
Adding new capabilities to your existing equipment may give your designs a boost-helping your career in the process. More and more, low-cost vision systems can make the difference. A primary goal at Automation Solution's Hartford Office, says President Rich Manders, "is to have a product that we can add value to." Machines that "see" are definitely on the horizon for many original equipment builders trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology.
32. Protect devices from EMI/RFI
As products get smaller, EMI/RFI concerns get larger. And even for devices that aren't shrinking, as clock speeds increase, interference increases. But you'll also have to account for thermal dissipation that any shielding affects. Best advice: Confer with competent suppliers to tap into their application engineering expertise and design history. No need to spend time reinventing the wheel.
33. Leverage fiber optics
Fiber optics may help you get ahead in a world in which copper wires are giving way to glass fibers. One obvious growth engine for fiber optics comes from the push to broadband and the need for high-speed data transmission. On the strength of their imaging capabilities, fiber optics also play a role in all kinds of sensing, analytical, and medical diagnostics equipment. And for those engineers who have to deal with ever-smaller packages, space-saving fiber can be a godsend.
34. Choose the right enclosure
A key question in selecting an industrial enclosure is, "What environment is the product going in to?" The answer will determine what NEMA rating is required for the enclosure. But in order to fully protect the electronics inside, you should also know what power densities will be handled and whether or not EMI shielding is required. Many enclosure makers have selector guides on their websites, a big help once you've defined the operating parameters.
35. Take the heat out of electronic
You're probably familiar with the many ways available to get the heat out of electronic devices: heat sinks, greases or gels, fans, and maybe even heat pipes-or combinations of several of these. But software, too, is a tool for thermal efficiency. And with a good basic design, you may find that you can use the existing components and device structure to conduct portions of the heat away so that any additional heat-extracting components can be minimized.
36. Know your options in cooling
Whether you're designing a dorm-size refrigerator or a machine tool with an enclosure full of electronics, getting a handle on all the options available to keep these products cool is a major career-builder. Cooling options for enclosures are growing, too, as footprints shrink and power densities increase. Learning as much as you can about the capabilities and limitations of passive cooling devices, forced convection, heat exchangers, air conditioning systems, and the like just could, well, heat up your career.
37. Learn about switches and relays
Switch and relay vendors are ever expanding their lines. And don't just limit yourself to their standard offerings-consider options and customized solutions for specialized needs. Need a sealed switch? Such are staples in the marine, automotive, and aerospace industries. Finally, make sure the rating of any switch or relay covers the application environment to avoid inefficient derating of components.
38. Know choices in bus systems
By choosing the right bus system, engineers help their companies leapfrog the competition. At the same time, a bus system can help cut costs in installation and field service. Not a bad career move for a design engineer. Bus systems can also offer advantages that are not so immediately obvious, including a more user-friendly and intuitive visual interface; real-time monitoring capabilities; and great production capabilities.
39. Unravel the wire harness maze
Get rid of that wire harness. Do away with hours of labor-intensive wiring. Streamline electrical system diagnostics. Realize more modular designs. The list of benefits of remote I/O and protocol communications goes on. In fact, according to Charles Geraldi, director of automation at the C & G Automation Group of Cuny & Guerber Inc., using remote I/O and protocol communications also saves money. "In today's dollars, yesteryear's technique would run approximately $1,000 for a 16-point I/O panel. It only costs about $600 to wire the same points using protocol communications and remote I/O modules."
40. Know interconnect technology
Don't think of electrical connection systems as afterthoughts for designs. Even the range of options now available just for effecting connections warrants consideration from the standpoint of ease and effectiveness of installation-which impacts overall product cost. For example, simple but effective insulation displacement technology may make a terminal block design a cost-effective solution compared to a spring clip termination.
41. Master motion control
In the U.S., most engineers don't choose to specialize in motion control. As a result, motion control engineers are in great demand. "Most motion experts have learned by 'osmosis' through application experience," says Fred Sitkins, executive director of AIME (Association of International Motion Engineers). But today, there are excellent external programs to help engineers broaden what they have learned in school. Sitkins advises, "take as many short courses, seminars, workshops, and tutorials as you can possibly find."
42. Get long-distance motion control
Save your company some dough with remote control. Apply FireWire, EtherNet, or other networking protocols that allow of factory floor information to flow seamlessly to the corporate boardroom. Monitor a machine's current state and production level, or trouble shoot from afar. Why? "Because almost everyone today is demand rich and time poor," according to Charles Geraldi, director of automation at the C & G Automation Group of Cuny & Guerber Inc.
43. Utilize distributed control
Distributed or decentralized control proliferates as microprocessor cost decreases. With extra intelligence in devices such as sensors and motor drives, the master controller can be smaller and less expensive. So when there's little chance of improving a machine's mechanics, make a name for yourself by exploiting decentralized control. It eliminates a lot of down time because now you can diagnose errors at the local level, rather than at the hierarchical level, where it is more challenging to find embedded flaws in the overall program.
44. Leverage linear technology
Obtaining the right motion profile with the right accuracy is critical to the performance of any machine. Engineers can get the most from linear technology by knowing what the alternatives are, and understanding what the relative performance characteristics are. While the majority will work for any given application, the trick is to identify a technology that will give you the performance and reliability you need for the lowest price.
45. Choose the right motor for control
Single-speed induction motors, brush dc motors, brushless dc motors, linear motors-there are more options than ever available in motor technologies today that, when combined with the right control and drive technology, provide servo and servo-like performance. And achieving good machine performance can give your products and career the competitive boost it needs. Learning about all the motor choices available, then picking the right motor for your application, can also save you big in product costs.
46. Pick the best motor
Get sophisticated about the types of motors that you choose, and maximize the cost/performance ratio. While motor technology isn't fully covered at universities today, says Dan Jones, president of Incremotion Associates, the technology is changing faster than ever. "Stepper and servo technology, for example, separate worlds in the past, are blending today. So take as many seminars and workshops as you can to stay up to date."
47. Tap into linear motors
"Linear motors are hot today," says President of Automation Solution's Hartford Office Rich Manders. "Everybody wants to know what the technology can do for their machines. So designing with linear motors is good to have on your resume." Direct linear drives achieve an axis of motion with fewer components, and reach higher levels of performance. Cost has been a big issue for some, but Automation Solutions International's Mark Sabine says "We're bound to see a reduction in price as volumes increase."
48. Get to know miniature motors
Brushed, brushless, iron core, coreless-miniature motors come in all shapes and sizes, allowing engineers the opportunity for big breakthroughs on a small scale. Miniature motors let engineers create devices such as small gas analyzers, micro-drives, and tiny pumps for minimally invasive surgery, and miniature motion-control systems. "Miniaturization is the name of the game in so many industries today," says President of Automation Solution's Hartford Office Rich Manders.
49. Stay current on machine safety
See the dangers and meet the ever-changing safety rules. "Anyone producing equipment for the manufacturing industry, for example, has to be concerned with OSHA's safety regulations," says Jack Gregory, associate professor in the College of Technology at Ferris State University. Design engineers can't prevent operators or technicians from circumventing safety devices such as automatic shut-offs, electronic light curtains, door closures, and movable guarding. Nonetheless, machine builders have a responsibility to provide at least a modicum of protection for operators.
50. Know what gears to choose
Options for selecting the appropriate gears for your application should be your highest priority. "The most critical stage of the process is the initial design phase," says Patrick O'Donnell, president of Performance Gear Systems. "Designing successful plastic gear applications relies on a mixture of several factors. Environment, power requirements, packaging constraints, product life expectancy, and cost are all significant factors that need to be considered at the outset."
51. Stay up on brakes and clutches
Staying on top of new technology offerings can help engineers get ahead in their careers by providing creative solutions to tough problems. "The existing technology we were evaluating for a new tractor mower simply wasn't meeting stop time requirements," says Steve Weber, a senior project engineer with Simplicity. "If we had not identified the electromechanical clutch/brake that helped us get there, we would have had to come up with something else-I'm not sure what that would have been."
52. Know the differences in bearings
Understanding the types of loads to be handled by the bearings is critical to identifying what type of bearing works best in a specific application. Determining the right bearing can often save countless dollars in machine and maintenance costs-which isn't a bad career move. That's what Design Engineer Dave Kayser learned in developing a mail processing machine. "Our main concern was the life of the bearing, but we also saved costs by going to a new bearing design that combines a rolling element bearing with a self clinching retainer," he says.
53. Learn the latest on drives
Why the push to direct-drive technology? Without gearboxes, ballscrews, belts, or chains, there's no need to maintain (or pay for) components. The only component to wear is the bearing in the motor. Your system's accuracy will be improved since there is no backlash from gearboxes, or stretching of belts. The load is directly coupled to the drive for truer positioning. And faster accelerations are possible without the inertia and friction of a mechanical transmission, and the low cogging available with "tight" coil designs gives smoother operation.
54. Marry electronics/fluid power
As practical applications for integrating fluid power technology with electronic control devices become more prevalent, it is increasingly important for engineers to know more about the merging of these technologies. Although no one can predict exactly where the industry will be five or ten years from now, it will be different. For one thing, more electronics will be used. Design engineers will need to understand how to properly apply these technologies.
55. Harness hydraulics power
Consider that the hydraulic systems engineer is a scarce commodity. Next, consider that many young graduates are unaware of the career potential in electro-hydraulics. Many aspects of hydraulic operation, from motion control to work-holding applications, can be fully integrated with modern electronic control systems. So, if you understand hydraulics and technologies used for controlling it, you'll have options and choices about the types of projects to which you devote your time as you move through your career.
56. Match seals to requirements
Matching seals with the environmental conditions in which your products operate is easier thanks to computers. First, there is the Internet, which hastens the accessing of skill-building resources for seal selection. Some seal manufacturers offer white papers and how-to guides on their web sites. It is also possible to find information on O-ring design, seal types, material selection, troubleshooting guidelines, and basic rules about working with seals you should know and understand on the Internet. Some sites provide specialized information for specific industries and markets.
57. Spend time on fastening details
Things fall apart. It's an unavoidable fact of life. Yet things don't have to fall apart prematurely, which is why it's important to choose the right fastener or adhesive for your application. From a career perspective, don't expect too much more than a pat on the back when you pick the proper fastening method. If you don't want to hear about it, a good way to ensure success with mechanical fasteners or adhesives is to think about them early in the design process. The maximum potential for balancing performance, appearance, and cost targets appears early and then fades away.
58. Consider access hardware
"Latch selection should be close to the front of the design process," says Ed Calhoun, engineering manager at enclosure maker Integration Technology Systems. He has seen cases where a mature enclosure design makes it difficult to find hardware that fits, meets strength requirements, and looks good. His advice for successful latch selection: "As soon as the basic concept has been defined, sweat the details."
59. Use high-strength adhesives
If keeping assemblies together keeps your career on track, high-strength adhesives can let you stick with good designs that might otherwise fall apart. Samick Music Corp. had to attach a speaker cone assembly to the wood-laminate enclosure of a sub-woofer. This speaker moves a lot of air under pressure. And Frank Cates, executive director of Samick's pro-audio division, likens the task of fastening the speaker cone to "holding a race car with a thumbtack." Cates' team found that a high-strength adhesive from 3M would hold the cone reliably.
60. Be a materials maven
The universe of material choices expands all the time. And the best material for the job yesterday won't necessarily cut it today. Knowing all the materials options is a full-time job for some. If it's not your full-time job, it still helps to develop a sense of how materials can solve your particular engineering problems. "It's great to be able to identify a material solution to a problem, and then go out and find that material," says Dean Balzaco, a project engineer for Ryobi Outdoor Products.
61. Investigate high-tech plastics
That guy in The Graduate, spouting off about the rosy future for plastics, was right. Name just about any major market and plastics play an expanding role. And it's no wonder, given the design flexibility plastics can offer. And the ability of engineering polymers to meet not just physical requirements, but also cost and aesthetic goals has never been greater. Plastics have emerged as the solution to a wide variety of engineering problems-everything from vibration damping to static dissipation.
62. Check out elastomers, too
Elastomers are getting better all the time at meeting physical, mechanical, and cost requirements. But the biggest trend behind the elastomeric revolution today is their ability to impart an ergonomic touch to even the most ordinary objects. For proof, go shopping: Visit the hardware store, where row after row of hand and power tools have taken on soft-touch accents. Stop by the pharmacy and look at all the elastomer-clad toothbrushes and razors. In short, elastomers are everywhere, so learn how to use them.
63. Tap powder metal advantages
As a cost-effective way to make net-shape parts, powder metal in all its forms is growing at a quick clip. "It's the fastest growing area within metal working," says Peter Johnson of the Metal Powder Industries Federation. In fact, shipments of the raw materials were up 7.5% last year, according to MPIF estimates. With all that powder flying around, someone has to design the parts. And there's a shortage of those who have the know how to do it. "There's a huge need for people with mechanical engineering and materials science experience," says Johnson.
64. Learn about composites
Whether you want to design in composites is up to you. Or is it? Falling material costs and processing refinements are driving composites into new applications-including ones that lack the daunting mechanical requirements that once drove composites usage. "It used to be that you would use composites only if it was warranted for structural reasons," says Dan Molligan, vice president of Mc-Aps Inc., a composites engineering and manufacturing firm. "If you could use plastic or metal, you would." Nowadays composites are appearing in sporting goods and other products simply for their "look-and-feel."
65. Learn tooling design
What good is a part that can't be built? "With tooling design as a foundation, engineers can be the best designers they can be," says Dennis Finney, professor of manufacturing tooling technology at Ferris State University. With such practical manufacturing experience comes an understanding of different materials and processes. "Employers tell us over and over again that people with manufacturing and tooling experience make the best designers," says Finney.
66. Partner with a custom molder
The best custom molders can do a whole lot more than shoot and ship parts. If you have an eye on design outsourcing, custom molders have a lot to offer. For one thing, the full-service molders employ designers who know how to tweak that design that looks so good on the CAD system-to make sure it can actually be molded here in the real world. Good custom molders can also serve as a one-stop shop for models and rapid prototypes. Need more help? Some molders will even do additional design work for the right customers.
67. Learn about die-casting
Before you assemble it, before you braze it, consider advanced die casting to reduce the parts counts in metal assemblies. That's what Timberline Lock did. The maker of miniature locks recently redesigned its lock plugs with six pocket-bearing faces instead of four. While the additional faces make the plugs more versatile from an installation and re-keying perspective, they also threatened to increase the parts count. So Timberline turned to the Fishercast process, which can pull across six faces, to keep the plug as a single component and costs low.
68. Learn more about manufacturing
All development projects that involve engineering, manufacturing, and marketing are best managed by teams assembled at an early stage. These teams should include representatives from each function working together as an integrated team focused on completing the project within the schedule, cost, and performance parameters. The teams that achieve these parameters most effectively consist of members who have a good understanding of the functions involved and how they should relate to each other.
69. Master project management
The least risky way a product can be developed, produced, and introduced to the marketplace on schedule, performance, quality, and cost is to work it as a project. Projects provide frameworks for making assignments and tradeoffs within the project and with other projects using the same limited pool of qualified employees and accommodating market changes without disruption. Due to its importance, and widespread use, project management has become a basic tool every engineer must be able to use effectively.
70. Build an effective team
Dr. George Kenney demonstrates that good things happen when you have an effective team. He is materials process engineer and the associate director of a unique research and fabrication project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project involves research on photonic devices and circuits for communication and computing systems. "We brought together people and integrated their expertise in condensed matter, physics, materials science, process engineering, fabrication of microphotonic circuitry, and photonic characterization to make this happen," he says.
71. Work with decision-makers
So you've created a great new design, but it's still sitting in your bottom drawer. You'll never get credit-or patents-unless you spread the word. The political dynamics of your company may make this easy or hard. But you can network over the Internet to quickly share your ideas, creations, or inventions. And if you choose the correct forum, you can get feedback "not only from a small circle of friends or decision makers, but even from all around the world," says Mark Silverberg, manager of the UNIX marketing and expertise center at Compaq Computer.
72. Find standards, regulations fast
To improve business performance, cutting-edge companies no longer depend upon the simple accumulation of individually acquired knowledge. They now try to embed the lessons of experience into information repositories, work processes and support systems, and products and services. To get ahead in their careers, engineers must participate in these activities by identifying and gathering information, and learning how to integrate it into their activities. Information technology alone will not improve performance. People learn most through interacting with other people.
73. Tap into technology from NASA
NASA continues to lead in the development of a number of products, devices, processes, and techniques that are related to exploring space. Engineers can learn much by contacting and interacting with NASA engineers. The possession of such knowledge would add to any engineer's resume, especially one planning to pursue space flight either working directly for NASA or for a NASA contractor.
74. Join a professional organization
When a student graduates from a college or university, it is like receiving an admission ticket to a journey which will be exciting, demanding, frustrating, and rewarding. To be successful in this journey, engineers must keep up with rapidly changing technology. One aspect of this involvement is to interact with engineers outside of your organization to gain the new perspectives and the new knowledge that is so vital to career growth. Joining in professional organizations is an excellent way to keep your knowledge current.
75. Cut your design time in half
Projects have three interrelated critical parameters-cost, schedule, and performance. However, the scheduled time of delivery is usually the most critical. Since strategies and plans for manufacturing and marketing implement the product design, any reduction in design time can result in a significant reduction in the product development schedule. A working knowledge of how to reduce design time and still comply with performance requirements is valuable for any engineer and the firm.
76. Learn another language
For those engineers whose road to advancement requires assignments in countries outside of the U.S. or working with global design teams, fluency in a second language could be important. Each year many knowledge workers who are not fluent in English move to the U.S. to work. They will progress much better in most organizations if they learn English as a second language.
77. Get an MBA degree
Engineers usually follow one of three career paths: 1) Become a technical guru; 2) Move into project management and eventually into general management; 3) Be a technical guru until it becomes too difficult to devote so much time and energy to maintaining the required knowledge. Engineers aspiring to be technical gurus would likely be better off taking advanced courses in order to keep their guru status. This is not to say that they would not benefit greatly from working for an MBA degree. The timing might just be wrong. Later when the guru decides to try something new an MBA could be just the ticket!
78. Boost communication skills
During a recent project management seminar, middle managers from a large well-managed corporation were asked, "What function is critical to you as managers?" The unanimous response was communications. As they interacted, it became clear that most transmitters of information pay little attention to the receivers, and the receivers pay too little attention to transmitters. Good communications is a basic skill every engineer must have to enhance a career. It sounds easy, but it requires a lot of attention and effort.
79. Design for global cultures
Our products now have to also be acceptable in other cultures. Since this is an emerging trend, gaining knowledge and skills in this area should help engineers to enhance their careers. A good example of designing for other cultures is the Japanese automobile business, which runs nearly identical left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive vehicles down the same production line. More significantly, the U.S. is the only major country that does not use the metric system of measurement for everything.
80. Be an ethical engineer
Would you trust someone whom you didn't think was ethical? Would you work for him or her? Would you buy from him or her? Managers under pressure to perform must be careful not to put members of their teams in situations where their ethics could be compromised, says John Crawford, an Intel Fellow and director of Microprocessor Architecture at Intel Corp. "Make sure that what you're building will last," Crawford says, "otherwise, what's the point of building it? If an engineer stretches the truth, or cuts corners, it will come to light sooner or later. Pay attention to the truth."
81. Develop a positive attitude
"We become what we think about," says Earl Nightingale, chairman emeritus of the board of Nightingale-Conant, a publisher of self-improvement materials. Nightingale's premise: people can reach goals they feel are important and by doing so make a major contribution to others. What is the role of one's attitude in all this? "Attitude makes all the difference," according to Nick Carter, the vice president of communications for Nightingale-Conant. "Your attitude is either a can do or can't do attitude."
82.Talk to your customers
One path to glory leads through sales to higher management, but the door will remain blocked for design engineers if they are uncomfortable in discussions with customers. "If you're going to have to talk to customers someday," says Terry Smith, manager of engineering at Rittal Corp., "you might as well start right away." Smith and other engineering managers suggest public speaking courses, because a comfort level with customers is invaluable during the product design process, as well.
83. Take on more responsibility
This one's a no-brainer. If you want to get more in the way of pay or prestige, give more. One way is to volunteer to head up a new project. If it succeeds, you'll look like leadership material if you give the lion's share of credit to members of the team. If the project fails, take the responsibility, but absorb the lessons. Another option is to be the messenger who brings bad news rather than trying to conceal problems. Most of the time, says Intel's John Crawford, companies will thank you for bringing a problem to their attention.
84. Investigate dual-track options
Dual-track programs combine two types of training that allow engineers to rise through the ranks with options about the directions they pursue. For example, engineers might take management courses in addition to technical courses. At Parker-Hannifin, engineering graduates entering sales training must also go through corporate development training. Stephanie Havanas, group training coordinator for the company's Motion and Control division says, "Our training starts everyone out with the same footing, but from there it's up to the individual to decide where they want to go and what they want to do."
85. Partner with OEM giants
The modern, Internet economy is dominated by creative, fast-moving little companies, while the blue-chippers focus solely on their "core competencies." "Outsourcing R & D is one way to look at startups if you're a big company," says Brad Schrick, co-founder and marketing director of WebScope(TM). For instance, tiny WebScope is a distribution partner with Sun Microsystems. Other ways small and large companies can work together include: co-marketing efforts, the large company buying a controlling interest, and the large company including a startup's product as an addition to its own.
86. Join a startup company
When John Sutter joined WebScope(TM), the tiny startup company had no employees and no revenue. So why would a young engineer with a recently earned masters degree and work experience at a software company in Japan take such a risk? "With a startup, you get exposure to the full range of 'bleeding' edge technologies, and the possibility to actually create new technologies," Sutter says. "You're right on the edge, and there's a lot of adrenaline there."
87. Track technology's leaders
Most companies are aware of their competition, but with mergers and acquisitions the names often change. Keeping track will help you to establish a benchmark for your product offerings. But before you can track the pacesetters, you need to know who they are. "The experience from my mentor showed me the importance of tracking trends and movements in the industry. By understanding the direction of others through research, I can clearly see where I need to be in the future to stay competitive," says Brian Robinson, an engineering consultant.
88. Get more out of trade shows
First, there are the contacts-people who can answer questions about a company for which you might want to work. Next, there are the educational seminars. The booths at trade shows are also good places for educating yourself. Many contain exhibits with products you can see, touch, and study. "We make every effort to share information and provide ongoing technical training to our engineers, sales people, and distributors. I think a good place to start is at the trade shows," says Larry Huetsch, VP, Operations & Engineering at Hoerbiger-Origa Corp.
89. Check out government tech jobs
Most government agencies have all but closed the knowledge and technology gaps that once may have separated them from civilian endeavors. Some engineers may be attracted to government jobs because those jobs present an opportunity to create long-term value. Others may be attracted by the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of government. Still others may be motivated by the desire for greater job stability, better pay, nifty tools, or some combination.
90. Find a good mentor
You can become successful without a mentor but it's harder than it used to be, it's likely to take longer, and you're likely to make more mistakes along the way. So why not go with the odds? Remember, when looking for a mentor, that he or she might find you first. That's more likely to happen if you've shown potential in your willingness to talk to customers, take on more responsibility, etc. But if a mentor hasn't found you, and you've identified someone worth following, don't be afraid to ask.
91. Sign up for a skunkworks project
This one's a variation on accepting responsibility. A skunkworks is the business equivalent of a commando unit that operates independently of the main force. It's where and how the IBM PC was first developed. It's for self-motivated people willing to work long hours under pressure and, more importantly, willing to take risks. Not every skunkworks will be successful in accomplishing its mission, but the winners are likely to win big.
92. Train a new engineer
The best way to really understand something is to teach it, and the best way to develop a productive relationship with others is to give something of yourself. The engineer you train will most likely appreciate the value of your time and will be grateful that you helped him. Teach with patience and remember that not everyone learns in the same way, or at the same pace. And remember that the engineer you train today may be the one you rely on tomorrow.
93. Become a systems designer
Unless you're in a tunnel, tunnel vision is deadly. Focus just on what you're doing, without understanding the context of your design effort, and you're likely to get stuck doing it for-ever. The engineers who get ahead are the ones who are able to grasp the big picture and who develop the skills needed to deliver system-level value. Your broader understanding will contribute to a more effective design. So keep asking questions.
94. Invent something
One of the fastest ways to supercharge your career is to invent the next great technological breakthrough. So how do you get those creative juices flowing? One way is to follow your hobbies and interests, says Mark Troscinski, multiphysics product manager at ANSYS. Although he creates CFD models for a living today, Troscinski once played semi-pro baseball. A few years ago, these interests converged when he was assigned to demonstrate graphics on a new computer. He wrote a program that would predict the ball's trajectory according to air flow, velocity, angle, spin rate, etc.
95. Be really, really creative
Good engineering involves thinking out of the box. "It's assumed that what we are designing is going to work, and oftentimes we go into a project having no idea how we're actually going to get there," says Steve Weber, a senior project engineer with Simplicity. "The best solutions are usually the most creative ones, often involving approaches that we may not have thought of before, but that meet requirements in the quickest time at the least cost." Identifying the solution with the least number of trade-offs is really what good engineering is all about.
96. Take courses on the Internet
Hit the books, anytime, anywhere. The Internet allows engineers to continue their education, work on a master's degree, "attend" seminars, even study a new area, all online. Many engineering colleges are going online with the opportunity to earn graduate credits without traveling to a campus. A great place to find a comprehensive listing can be found at LookSmart. com. Just search engineering education, then select the field.
97. Participate in online chats
Where do you go to design and build a gearbox with an input and output on the same side? Many engineers are finding chat rooms and message boards that can provide answers on specific technical questions and more. One of the best places we've found for engineers is Engineering Tips at www.eng-tips.com/. Not only can you participate in specialized chats and post on message boards, but users can sign up to receive e-mails when new topics of their choice are posted.
98. Bookmark hot engineering sites
Find yourself going back again and again to the sites you like? Here are some of the hottest engineering sites:
American Society of Mechanical Engineers-www.asme.org/index.html
Thomson Scientific-Derwent Patent Search-www.derwent.com/
NASA Office of Technology Transfer-http://technology.jsc.nasa.gov/
Engineering-e.com-www.engineeringe.com/99.Use online selector guides
Interactivity is what the Internet is all about. And some of the best places are sites that work with you in finding the right answer. For example, Artesyn's Virtual PowerLab has SimScope, a power supply simulation tool.-www.artesyn. com/powerlab/. Adhesive Selector Guide allows users to select materials to bond and pick a curing technique-www. assemblymag.com/toolbox/adhesive/.
Specialty Steel and Forge offers a selection of material property data sheets at www.steelforge.com/infoservices/ properties/step1.asp.
100. Download drawings you need
Don't get stuck in the paper chase! The CAD Depot hosts a conglomerate of demos, free downloads, and reviews at http://www. caddepot.com/. InPart is a portal offering CAD through subscriptions at http://www.ptc.com/products/inpart/index.htm. Many vendor sites also offer downloads of their products, saving you time and money in the design process.
About the Author(s)
You May Also Like
Micron Exec Says Vehicles Are Next Hotbed for MemoryNov 27, 2023
EV Battery Recycling Requires More Efficient ProcessesNov 27, 2023
Commentary: OpenAI’s About Face on CEO Firing Points to Growing Pains in AI SectorNov 27, 2023
Ultimate Drag Race: Red Bull F1 Car vs MotoGP Bike vs Rally Car!Nov 27, 2023