There has been a lot of talk in the business press lately about "the new economy" that has emerged and how it is changing the marketplace. Most recently, Business Week described the trends that best characterize the new economy as globalization of business and a revolution in information technology. What's the impact on engineering?
Quite a lot, it turns out. And that's not surprising, considering the mutual dependence between engineering and the economy. Each drives the other. The fierce competitiveness globalization has wrought was among the factors that several years ago sparked increased emphasis on innovation, greater productivity, cost consciousness, and quality. Among results were the moves toward design for manufacturability, concurrent engineering, and design teams. At the same time, the product-development cycle rocketed time to market from mach speed to warp speed.
Meanwhile, engineering advances have created new opportunities for employment in such fields as computers and telecommunications, giving people the income they need to buy more consumer goods, thus stimulating the economy further. Many of those advances, in fields such as materials, electronic components, and software, have given engineers new tools for developing even better products.
As a result, engineers are busier than ever. The most recent Simmons study of the engineering universe sponsored by Design News shows engineers working on about 18 projects a year. That's up from 10 about six years ago and 15 three years ago.
As remarkable as that jump in assignments is the broadening of responsibility of the average engineer. Gone are the days when he or she could spend an entire career in one little niche. Today's design engineers are the consummate generalists. On any given project, they can find themselves choosing materials, electronic components, fasteners, and a range of other components. And, the Simmons study shows that they have growing involvement not only in product design, but also in testing, research and development, quality control, and in-plant design, among other areas.
That's the "new engineering." Always an exciting and fulfilling profession, it's now even more dynamic, more varied. And it places greater emphasis than ever on broad knowledge, flexibility, team work, creativity, and conceptual thinking.