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Less time for more work

Less time for more work

Changes in the design engineer's job are being driven largely by time and the fact that there's less of it, even though most engineers are working longer hours. Designing better products that are less expensive isn't enough, according to the results of a research study conducted by Cahners Research for Design News in October 2000. Companies want their engineers to design products faster, helping to get products out the door before the competition does.

We want it yesterday. Engineers who participated in the study ranked "shortening the design cycle" as the most important challenge they face. Nearly three out of four respondents indicate that it is important now and will continue to be important over the next five years. Almost two thirds (63%) indicated that beating major competitors to market is a top goal. Interestingly enough, the results of a similar study conducted in 1997 by Simmons Market Research Bureau, Inc. for Design News, showed that engineers considered their top challenge was "keeping up with technology." Also in the 2000 survey, 29% of respondents said the duration of an "average" design project is between 6 and 12 months. Another 36% reported the duration is six months or less. Approximately 13% said they have 3 months or less to complete the average project.

"Everyone wants everything yesterday," says Jim Siedhoff, a design engineer for American Tool (Vernon Hills, IL). He has seen his workload skyrocket; he now manages about a dozen major projects in a year. "That's about three times as many as last year," he says.

Siedhoff made only part prints for American Tool's Vise-Grip products a few years ago. Now he manages projects, designs parts, and does several other things all at once. "I have a lot more responsibility and the stress levels are higher," he explains. "There's also a much bigger push for time to market, but the quality and cost of the finished product are also supposed to improve."

Harry Patel, an engineering manager at Parker-Hannifin's Tube Fitting Div. (Columbus, OH) feels Siedhoff's pain. Experiencing a recent increase in his workload, he now manages some 20 projects a year.

Like Siedhoff, Patel says that his engineering challenges include improving product performance and reducing cost. "Global competition and demands of our markets require that we bring new and improved products to market quicker," he notes.

Outsourcing lends a hand. Just how are engineers managing their increased workloads today? One way is by outsourcing some of the engineering work. "We use co-op engineers to do the low-end work, so the more experienced engineers can concentrate on the more creative engineering work," says Patel. Outsourcing also allows the engineering team to take on more projects without adding staff.

Although fewer companies are outsourcing design work than not, outsourcing of design work remains a major trend among engineers surveyed. The long-standing trend has both positive and negative effects on the way products are engineered and manufactured, as engineer Steve Leavitt from Agilent Technologies' (Andover, MA) points out. Agilent is one of the 37% of medical equipment manufacturers that are outsourcing some of their design work.

"I see the long-term movement towards more third-party solutions to engineering problems," says Leavitt. "That's because in part higher levels of integration necessitate being more reliant on third-party software tools and chip technology."

Companies like Agilent that do outsource generally rely on suppliers, consultants, and systems integrators for engineering and design help, according to the survey. In most industries, more than half the work that is outsourced goes to engineering consultants and service firms. Engineers at supplier companies are also getting a large portion of outsourced work-between 30 and 40% across most major industries, including aerospace, automotive, medical, and consumer products.

Leavitt points out that suppliers are required to be involved in product quality and cost containment, but the challenge of balancing customer needs with product profitability is all his. "My biggest challenge is to continue to engineer value into the product and engineer cost out of the product."

Facing shorter design cycles and more pressure to beat the competition... ...engineers are outsourcing some of their design work...
Top challenges engineers face Outsourcing by industry Yes No
Shortening the design cycle 64% Aerospace/Defense 38% 62%
Education/Keeping up with technology 64% Appliance/Consumer Products 46% 54%
Beating major competitors to market 63% Auto/Trucks 43% 57%
Working with new materials 37% Heavy trucks/Off Highway 43% 57%
Finding qualified engineering personnel 34% Computers/Office Equipment 47% 53%
Computerizing design function 33% Communications/
44% 56%
Working outside your specialty 26% Semiconductor Mfg. 40% 60%
Identifying new suppliers 28% Machine tools 40% 60%
Using the Internet in design work 24% Packaging equipment 26% 74%
Product liability recalls 18% Processing 38% 62%
Medical 37% 63%
...and turning to consultants and suppliers for help
Industry Engineering/
Engineers at Supplier Systems Integrators

59% 40% 1%
Consumer Products
55% 40% 5%
Auto/Trucks 56% 36% 8%
Heavy truck/
Off Highway
62% 30% 8%
Office Equipment
58% 32% 11%
50% 48% 3%
53% 33% 13%
Machine Tools 46% 32% 22%
Packaging Equipment 44% 33% 22%
Processing 65% 35% -
Medical 60% 38% 2%
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