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Articles from 2009 In June

When I go to buy a light bulb, the packages seem to indicate light or color temperature in something called Kelvin. What is this and how can light have temperature?

For me this is a really fun topic because it connects a label on the packaging of common consumer product, i.e. light bulbs, to some of the cool properties of thermal radiation, worked on by such physics legends as Max Planck and Albert Einstein.  In fact, these very properties helped disprove many of the commonly held notions surrounding classical physics, replacing them with the modern notion of Quantum mechanics.  Don’t worry, for those of you that have a fear of upper level physics and quantum mechanics, I’m going to keep it simple and perhaps point out a little bit of irony along the way.

To begin, if you want to keep it simple and don’t care about the true meaning of the units Kelvin, just note that the color temperature provides, in easy terms, the amount of blue or red you perceive in the light.  Effectively, the lower the number, the more reddish the light appears.  The higher the number, the bluer the light appears.  One point of irony for me is that we often say that a light source is “warmer” when it has more red, but a “warmer” light actually has a lower color temperature.   The following figure illustrates the scale of color temperature that I found at


Note that somewhere in the middle, around say 4000 to 5000 Kelvin, the light looks pretty “white”.  This means that the spread of visible light covers close to an even mix of light frequencies.   So when you are replacing your old incandescent bulbs, be it tungsten or halogen, if you want the lights to look the same, look for a color temperature in the 4000 or lower range.   You can find CFLs in this range, but all of the LEDs I’ve found tend to me much bluer.   Note that this is because they are actually more efficient light sources and that low temperature CFLs are effectively “cheating” a bit by filtering out some of the blue light.

For those of that don’t care about the true meaning of Kelvin, you can stop reading, others can read on.  To understand color temperature and Kelvin, you need to really know two things.  First, the unit Kelvin is the scientific scale for measuring temperature where 0 is absolute zero - effectively as cold as anything in the universe can get, and the size of one Kelvin degree is the same as 1 Celsius degree.  This means  0 Kelvins equals  -273 Celsius, room temperature is close to 300 Kelvins and the boiling point of water is 373 Kelvins.   Next it is important to note that objects, as they get warmer spew electromagnetic radiation.  The problem is that most objects also absorb and reflect electromagnetic radiation as well.    So, what if we could find an object that didn’t reflect any radiation, but absorbed it all?  In physics we call this a “black body” because it looks black no matter how much light you throw at it.  Now,  it turns out that because all incoming electromagnetic radiation is absorbed (not reflected or scattered),  the electromagnetic radiation emitted from a black body is directly related to its temperature.  So, if you could heat a black body to say 1,000 Kelvin, it would glow like a candle.  If you could heat it to 10,000 Kelvin then it would glow a bright blue.   While we don’t have any real black bodies on earth, we have all probably seen a pretty good approximation.  Take a hot iron in a blacksmith’s shop for example.   When it is really hot, just pulled from the fire, it might glow white and we might call it “white hot”.  As it cools, it goes to orange and then red.   Our man Lord Kelvin discovered this when looking at the colors of hot coals. For those of you puzzled by this phenomenon, remember that the energy increases with frequency - so it is natural that a higher temperature would cause a shift in radiated output to higher frequency light.   Also remember that it doesn’t stop with visible light spectrum - as we get to higher energy, the peak shift to ultra violet and all of those nasty cancer causers.

Just remember - what we call warm is really cold and what we call cold is really warm.

Dytran Instruments’ Ultra-Low-Noise Miniature Triaxial Accelerometers with TEDS

ELECTRONICS:  Dytran Instruments’ new miniature triaxial accelerometer is designed for modal analysis testing. The 3273AT series features a robust, laser-welded titanium design, which includes ceramic sensing elements coupled to ultra-low-noise JFET electronics. It includes IEEE 1451.4 TEDS. With a low end frequency response of -10 percent down to 0.31 Hz, the 3273AT series accelerometer offers excellent phase response at low frequencies. It also features an excellent signal to noise ratio. The 3273AT series accelerometers are available in sensitivities of 10, 50 and 100 mV/g. Featuring a hermetic seal, adhesive mount and a single four-pin connector, this triaxial IEPE accelerometer weighs only 2.7 gm. Its titanium housing contributes to its light weight, which provides for minimal mass loading of the accelerometer on the test article.


Free Webcast: Learn How Engineering Tools Work Together

For some time engineers have labored with stand-alone tools that help solve specific problems such as circuit design, testing, and modeling physical systems. New design tools, though, easily work together and exchange engineering information. So, you can model a physical system, simulate operations, write code, and then run hardware in the loop to perform tests.

To help you better understand what these tools can do, Design News magazine invites you to its free Webcast, “Design Tools Join Forces to Save Time and Money.” Presenters include:

Steve Miller, Technical Marketing Manager of Physical Modeling at The MathWorks


 Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Evangelist at Maplesoft 


Javier Gutierrez, Product Manager for National Instruments


You will learn how tools such as MATLAB, Simulink, LabVIEW, and MapleSim let you:

  • develop multi-domain system models
  • integrate design-specification documents with models
  • generate production code for processors, controllers, DSPs, and FPGAs
  • use symbolic computation to quickly and easily preprocess models
  • include CAD information in your models
  • map physical model diagrams directly to a system
  • quickly move to simulations and physical tests
  • integrate real equipment and devices into hardware-in-the loop tests

The presentation runs about 35 minutes and you can “tune in” at: Or use the longer URL below. You can ask questions that the presenters will answer individually by email.

If you have comments about this Webcast or have suggestions for other Webcast subjects, post a comment here. –Jon Titus

The Adventure of the Collapsing Signal

The Adventure of the Collapsing Signal

Carl Duffy, Contributing Writer
I work for Freescale Semiconductor as an integrated circuit Test Engineer and recently came across an interesting problem. I started to see a lot of devices failing some digital tests and digging into it I noticed some signals were collapsing (see PIN_B and PIN_C in figure below). The signal on top, PIN_A, is an adjacent pin on the chip which is behaving appropriately. These are standard 3V CMOS digital outputs on a rather slow port with a period of about 38ns.


This situation occurred while testing a chip at wafer probe. We test every chip in its packaged form, but as a cost saving measure we also test each chip when it is still in wafer form to weed out defective devices before they go through the expensive packaging process. The noise or ringing you see on the signals is not atypical of the probecard environment where signals might travel through 50cm (20 inches) of cable or loadboard traces, pogo pins, and a 2cm unshielded probe needle. Bypass capacitors are far away from the chip.

As we debugged the problem we gathered a few clues. First, we noticed PIN_B and PIN_C were both powered by the same VDD and GND pads, however, PIN_A, gets its power from different VDD and GND pads. The problem comes on suddenly as VDD is increased. We also noticed that when the signals collapsed, the data coming out was still correct; only the voltages were wrong. The problem always happened when a certain data pattern was transmitted, but never happened when the part was retested later in its packaged form.

One of the early theories that we investigated was whether the collapse was caused by reflections on the signal lines. But reflections over this distance don’t take 3 microseconds. Reflections take only a few nanoseconds over these distances and are visible in the finer detail. (See figure below.)


We also ruled out programmable drive strength or slew rates, because the problem did not occur when testing packaged parts with the same program. They might exacerbate the problem by increasing the instantaneous demand for current and thus the voltage spikes, but they did not cause the problem. Clamping of the power supply also was not the culprit: If this were the problem we would have only seen the logic 1 voltage decrease. Logic 0 would have been stayed at 0V.

We ultimately isolated the problem: The supply to the output circuitry was turning off - but what was causing the signal to collapse? The source of this problem lies with the ESD (Electro Static Discharge) protection circuits that are present on all CMOS chips. ESD protection circuits reacted to excessive noise on the supplies presuming it to be an ESD event. To protect the CMOS gates the ESD circuitry turned on, providing a momentary short circuit for the charge. This had the effect of collapsing the output signals.

A specific data pattern on multiple pins caused the problem because multiple pins toggling simultaneously and quickly caused the worst case ringing conditions on the supply. It was worse at high voltage because that drew the most power and thus had the highest ringing. The data was still correct because the microprocessor’s core supply was separate from the supply on the pads, and it was the latter that was turning off.

So why did this only occur at probe? In this particular case, there was only one probe needle providing power to PIN_B and PIN_C but in the packaged part there were multiple bond wires providing power. This meant that at probe we were cramming all the current through one VDD pad. Factor in the inductance of the probe needles and the bypass capacitors being significantly further away, and you get increased ringing on the power supply which triggered the ESD circuitry. PIN_A had multiple power pads at probe so it did not have as much ringing.

Adequate bypass capacitors on VDD up close to a chip will counteract the inductance in the path between the board’s power supply and the power supply pad, but on a probe card it is impractical to place capacitors close to the chip. The logic values were still correct because the I/O (input/output) supplies do not control the data. The I/O circuits provide level shifting and isolate the power supply noise of pad circuitry from core logic circuitry. The problem was resolved on a second revision of the chip with the addition of extra power and ground pads for probe needles. You can see this in the significantly improved signal quality in the figure below.


While our design team had spent a lot of effort designing the package, running simulations and adding extra power pads to ensure that we did not have simultaneous switching noise on the outputs, they had not run those same simulations on the probe card environment where fewer power supply pads were present. The bottom line for the IC designer is that ATE test environments require extra consideration during the design process. The lesson for the circuit board designer is the importance of bypass capacitors and following the power recommendations of the IC supplier.


Carl Duffy is a Lead Test Engineer working on iMX multimedia products for Freescale Semiconductor in Austin, Texas.

Siemens Emphasizes Productivity with Teamcenter 8 Release

Touting a focus on productivity enhancements across three key areas and a message of helping manufacturers do more with less, Siemens PLM Software unwrapped Teamcenter 8, a major upgrade to the centerpiece of its PLM platform, along with an enhanced version of its Tecnomatix digital manufacturing software.

Teamcenter 8's user interface has been overhauled to support tighter integration with the Microsoft Office suite, enabling users to interact with the PLM platform from inside the tools and processes they are accustomed to using every day. The addition of new integrated modules for content and document management as well as formula, package and brand management promote application productivity while the integration of the IBM "blue stack" of technology along with support for IBM's Service-Oriented Architecture will make Teamcenter easier to support and integrate with other enterprise systems, easing the burden on IT, officials say.

The announcements come just a week after Siemens announced a major partnership around PLM with IBM. The pair have been collaborating for over a year to ensure the forthcoming Teamcenter 8 comes ready to use with IBM's Product Development Information Framework (PDIF), a set of extensions built on SOA for integrating multiple applications, and comes preconfigured with the WebSphere middleware software and DB2 database management system. Siemens and IBM officials claim Teamcenter 8 is the only PLM platform to be so tightly integrated with IBM's SOA and integration architecture, thus eliminating the need for customers to choose between the two environments.

Bill Boswell, Siemens PLM Software's senior director of Teamcenter product marketing, described the focus of the release as being all about enhancing productivity, especially when customers are tightening their belts and trying to do more with less. By expanding the Teamcenter solution with an end-to-end set of components throughout the product lifecycle and by helping reduce the integration and support issues around PLM, Siemens is hoping to remove many of the stumbling blocks that have been an obstacle for PLM adoption and to help companies position themselves for future growth. "Best-in-class companies are asking the question: How can we be sure we're ready with the right products when the economy starts to recover," Boswell says. "By balancing productivity ... that's what this release is all about."

On a individual level, Teamcenter 8 features a number of new enhancements, including extensive use of the Microsoft Outlook user interface and improved integration with Office 2007. Specifically, Teamcenter 8 adds a "ribbon" to the Office toolbar, making it easier to interact with product information directly from within Word, Excel or other members of the Office suite. In addition, there is now an embedded "Teamcenter To Do List" within Outlook to help engineers manage scheduling, workflow and engineering changes through their everyday office applications. "Teamcenter looks just like all the other Microsoft Office pieces and all the typical tasks you need to do from Teamcenter are available without leaving Office with live updates and live connections," Boswell says. Earlier Teamcenter versions had limited Office integration, only supporting some specific cases around Bill of Materials exports or edits, he added.

Teamcenter 8 also features much more robust integration with ECAD tools, to improve the information sharing and collaboration experience for teams developing mechatronics-based products. Teamcenter menus can be embedded in logic capture and physical layout tools from Mentor Graphics, Cadence, Intercept and Altium, and from within the ECAD applications, users can save native design files and perform check-in and check-out operations. For tools not supported in the Teamcenter 8 release, Siemens PLM Software is offering a new gateway integration application specifically for EDA tools. The upgrade is also integrated with software development tools, including IBM's Rational and ClearCase.

Teamcenter 8 also ushers in an expanded set of applications, including modules for Content and Document Management as well as Formula, Package and Brand Management. In addition to these new modules, the platform offers enhanced lightweight viewing capabilities for better supplier collaboration, advanced requirements and project management functions along with new industry-specific template solutions for aerospace and defense, CPG and medical devices.

In the area of enhanced IT productivity around PLM, Siemens PLM Software is turning to its new partnership with IBM. Teamcenter 8 is now available on the IBM technology stack, shipping to customers pre-configured with IBM DB2 Information Manager and the WebSphere Application Server. In addition, the software supports Tivoli Storage Manager and Access Manager along with Rational ClearCase and the partners will jointly offer consulting and services around PLM.

In a related move, Siemens PLM Software announced Tecnomatix 9, an upgrade to its digital manufacturing software that boasts new features for automating various planning tasks, including those around alternative product assembly/disassembly sequencing and human modeling. The software also offers tighter integration with Teamcenter, enabling improved manufacturing data collaboration between the Tecnomatix suite and Teamcenter PLM backbone.

Honeywell’s Low-Pressure Plastic Silicon Pressure Sensors

ELECTRONICS/SENSORS:  Honeywell has expanded its ASDX plastic silicon pressure sensor family with the new ASDX Series and ASDX-DO Series, which offer pressure ranges from 1 psi to 5 psi. Onboard signal conditioning allows the customer to remove those components from their PC board to free space, may reduce their acquisition, inventory and assembly costs, and minimize potential problems from having multiple signal conditioning components spread across a circuit board. These low-pressure sensors are intended for use with non-corrosive, non-ionic working fluids, such as air and dry gases. Potential industrial and medical applications include barometry, flow calibrators, gas-flow instrumentation, sleep apnea/therapy equipment, pneumatic controls and ventilation/airflow monitors. The ASDX and ASDX-DO Series pressure sensors are fully calibrated and temperature compensated for sensor offset, sensitivity, temperature effects, and non-linearity using an on-board Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC). Calibrated output values for pressure are updated at approximately 1 kHz.


NASA Offering $1.65 Million for Research on Training Through Virtual Worlds

Since late 2007, I have touted the revolutionary training, product design, and test capabilities of virtual worlds like Second Life (SL). In January 2009, I implored the engineering community to stop thinking of SL as a game and embrace it as a product design tool. For my trouble, a reader with the handle JWM commented, “It’s a game, get back to work.” (See “Second Life’s Recognition as an Engineering Tool is Increasing“). So, what is it going to take to convince engineers to see past the stigma of Virtual Worlds as games and begin adopting this technology for design and training?

How about a NASA endorsement backed by $1.65 million?

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Learning Technologies Project Office recently released a request worth $1.65 million for research proposals on so-called Persistent Immersive Synthetic Environments (i.e., Virtual Worlds). Winning proposals must demonstrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content delivery approaches that promote technical workforce development and training. This NASA solicitation is open through August 11, and is entitled “2009 Research in the Design, Usage, and Evaluation of Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Immersive Synthetic Environment for NASA STEM Education and Training.”

A complimentary NASA release entitled “Development of a NASA-based massively multiplayer online learning game” posted on NASA’s massively multiplayer online educational game site says that “Virtual Worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity, making it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems.”

I don’t think the engineering community could receive a kick in the pants to adopt Virtual Worlds any more blatant than the one we just got from NASA. It is time for engineers to put old stereotypes to rest and adopt Virtual Worlds for design and training. If we don’t, some other technical profession will fill this niche without us. For example, my colleague, Dr. Yunfei Du, of the Department of Library and Information Sciences at the University of North Texas recently won funding for a project entitled, “Enhancing Students’ Experiential Learning on Academic Libraries Using Wimba Classroom and Second Life“. This project built a virtual library in SL to train students seeking to become librarians. With a few enhancements, this project could be used to train engineers in a virtual laboratory.

It is time we all followed JWM’s advise to “get back to work,” but instead of working on conventional engineering activities, let’s focus our efforts on Virtual Worlds for engineering design and training to assure our profession does not fall behind in adopting this technology.

Dassault, Microsoft Marry Technologies Around PLM

IBM and Siemens aren’t the only partners working to make Product Lifecycle Management more turn-key.

Dassault Systemes is expanding its partnership with Microsoft, integrating the ENVOIA V6 product development collaboration platform with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and the suite of Office tools. By marrying the two platforms, the pair are hoping to take some of the heavy lifting involved in deploying PLM systems by providing an out-of-the-box implementation that customers can get up and running on quickly, improving time-to-market and ultimately, reducing development time and costs.

The news is one more indicator that  long-time PLM partners IBM and Dassault are moving in different directions. IBM and Siemens recently entered into a strategic partnership around PLM, including offering joint consulting services and more importantly, building Teamcenter 8 on the IBM stack of technology, including its SOA architecture, Product Development Information Framework (PDIF), Websphere middleware and DB2 information management system.

Microsoft and Dassault point to a number of benefits from this tighter level of integration between ENOVIA V6, SQL Server and Office suite, including:

–Desktop access to real-time information and project details as needed from every day productivity applications, opening up PLM to users beyond the engineering organization;

–Synchronized development between packaging, product, operations and R&D to reduce critical errors and the associated costs of poor collaboration;

–The ability to leverage industry-specific PLM best practices and capabilities off the shelf, to speed deployment and cut time to ROI;

–The combination of Microsoft’s Unified Communications technologies with the ENOVIA 3DLive application, provide collaboration tools that let users work seamlessly in 3D, regardless of their geographical location or function.

Highly Qualified Engineers Having Trouble Finding Work

Highly Qualified Engineers Having Trouble Finding Work

William Ketel is no stranger when it comes to the pink slip. The 62-year-old out-of-work engineer from Michigan has been laid off 10 times that he can remember, twice by Chrysler.

 "My present unemployed situation, the end of my contract with Methode Electronics Div., came about when the research project I was supporting was canceled," Ketel says. "The layoff was part of a 10-person staff reduction, allegedly to reduce costs. That explanation smells a bit off, since three weeks earlier, the CEO had called a corporate-wide meeting to tell everybody that Methode did not have any money problems and that we were doing OK."

That was in November. Since then, Ketel says he has had one "serious" job interview with a competitor company of one of his previous employers. "I sensed it would be a short interview when the first question was ‘how old are you?'" he says. "That was the one question that I was not prepared for, and so I answered truthfully. The interview lasted about 15 minutes. I never got a call back."

(In this case, honesty is not always the best policy. According to the human resources section of, it is illegal to ask a prospective employee questions about their age, race/ethnicity, religion, disability and marital status, among others.)

Ketel says he has learned to take his out-of-work status in stride, but this time is different because he is competing against younger engineers for fewer positions. In fact, a recent IEEE study on unemployment and age, cited by sister publication EDN, states each additional year of ages adds about 3.5 weeks to the duration  of unemployment.

Ketel, who has been "diligently looking for a really good job" since the layoff, says he's not having a lot of success. "Engineers are easy to get rid of whenever things get a little tight," he says.

In the meantime, Ketel, who has a BSEE from Lawrence Institute of Technology, and his wife, who works in high school food service, are living off their savings and the little money Ketel earns doing freelance work. One job includes writing for Design News. He is also currently quoting a project for a major auto company, but declined to reveal which one.

He says he believes his reputation will help him find a new job. "I do have a bit of a reputation and my name is on an awful lot of drawings," says Ketel, whose resume lists an impressive set of skills and includes jobs from as far back as 1993. Before working for Methode, Ketel was a customer service engineer with Delphi Diesel Aftermarket, Hartridge Group. Prior to that, he served as chief electrical engineer at Global Test Engineering Services and J.E. Myles Inc.'s Control Power Reliance LLC.

Kenneth Ingold, a 53-year-old chemical engineer, has been living off his savings since being laid off from a major tobacco company "without explanation" in 2004. The company was patenting his work when he was let go. "I tried to get unemployment after my savings ran low," he says. "They reduced my benefits because I waited to file until I needed the money."

Ingold, who holds a BSChe from North Carolina State University, says he searches the Internet every day, but has had no luck finding employment. He tried to start a company, but the high gas prices stalled that project. "Head hunters will not answer me," he says. "I have had zero response to applications."

From 1978 to 1980, Ingold worked as a quality control engineer for General Tire in Charlotte, NC, but most of his experience comes from his time at Lorillard Research in Greensboro, NC, where he worked from 1980 to 2004. There, he, among other things, developed personal computer systems, including a vision system, calorimeter, warehouse fumigation monitoring with wireless networking and plant-wide DDC controls for primary processing. He also gained experience with sensors, humidity and gas monitoring, and air flow controls.

Ketel, who is eligible for early retirement, but is just not interested, says he has widened his scope of potential employment areas over the last few months, even looking at positions in plant maintenance and the infrastructure maintenance departments of local hospitals.

Most of his early employment experience was as an electrical project engineer designing controls and instrumentation for industrial test machines. To increase his value to employers, Ketel also educated himself in mechanical design, hydraulics, pneumatics and kinematics. "I also studied chemistry a bit, as it relates to corrosion and materials compatibility," he says. "I also worked with various shop people and learned to operate the mill and lathe."

Over the years, Ketel schooled himself in the art of technical writing and completed Allen Bradley PLC programming courses. He also took courses in robotic programming. He is proficient in AutoCAD, MSWord, Excel and PLC program development.

"What I have done is pursue a few customers that I have done contract consulting for in the past," he says. "I have also signed up with LinkedIn and I am not really certain what it is supposed to do for me. I have made contact with a few old friends, which is nice, but it has not been helpful job-wise."

For their part, some recruiters believe that social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook is one of the best things job-seekers can do (see sidebar).

Ketel says also has received e-mails from a man in Texas and there is possibly a job there if Ketel wants it, but he is not interested in ripping up roots. His only son is a teacher in Minnesota.

"I have cut way back on discretionary spending and I haven't bought any toys. We've only been out to eat once since I've been laid off," Ketel says. "Unlike many others, I saw this coming quite a while back and so I was never living at the edge of my income. I also avoided having much I the line of outstanding debt."

Ketel, who says he has always been a saver, had planned to retire at age 66 or 67, but those plans are now on hold. "If it gets too tight, I will retire and collect Social Security, but that's certainly not the plan," he says. "I'm fairly optimistic that I will find something as soon as the economy turns a little. It's no longer the catastrophic end-of-the-world feeling when you are suddenly out of a job. You learn to cope with it."

After Downturn, A Brighter Future for Automotive Engineers

After Downturn, A Brighter Future for Automotive Engineers

For automotive engineers, a better future is coming, experts say.

But as the technical community struggles back to its feet after the economic collapse of the past year, it's going to need to be willing to adapt. In the next few years, automotive engineers will have to work in global collaborative environments. They'll need to favor virtual tools over physical prototypes. And they'll have to learn about embedded systems, control software and electronics.

The good news is that engineers who do all that will likely find themselves employed.

"The big picture for the next few years looks pretty good," notes David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). "Everybody has been cutting to the bone and into the bone. What we will undoubtedly do as we come out of this is we will realize that we've overcut. We always do this. Then we go out on a hiring spree."
Help for the shell-shocked     
Until that hiring spree arrives, however, many engineers will change industries. They'll move from state to state. They'll leave the automotive industry.

"People who have been laid off are depressed and shell-shocked and haven't gotten over the sense of being victims," says Rob Kleinbaum, managing director for RAK & Co., a general management and operational consulting company with more than two decades of automotive experience. "Some people are even going to say, ‘To heck with engineering.'"

As bad as the economy looks right now, though, experts foresee a number of reasons why an engineering comeback is imminent. The biggest, they say, is the baby boom. As boomers retire, positions will open up. A CAR study called "Beyond The Big Leave" contends that in the next four to five years, the American economy will be short about ten million skilled workers, many of whom will be engineers. Over 12-15 years, that figure will balloon to about 30 million. At the same time, more than 13 million vehicles are being scrapped each year, while U.S. capacity is being reduced annually by four million units. Those figures, experts say, add up to a need for vehicles, as well as the engineers who design them.

In the long term, births and national fertility rates also appear to bode well for American engineers. The U.S. has far higher birth rates than Germany or Japan, the two other countries that produce the majority of the world's cars. In 2008, for example, the U.S. birth rate was 14.0 per 1,000 people, while Japan had 8.3 and Germany had 8.2.  Over the next 20-30 years, Japan's population is actually expected to decline by about 60 million. For engineers, the bottom line is simple: Foreign automakers will put manufacturing facilities in the U.S., as close as possible to educated workforces. Cole says that the change is already beginning.

Still, recovering automakers will have new criteria when they return. "With a turn in the market, the outlook will be good," Cole says. "But in terms of skills, everything will be different. The global competitive environment is shifting."

Experts say that engineers who understand embedded software, math modeling, and electronic controls will be in demand. Moreover, the new breed of engineers will have to be ready to work with foreign automakers and suppliers. They'll have to deal with counterparts abroad, which will nearly eliminate time-honored methods of physical prototyping, thus thrusting them more deeply into virtual design.

"It's not as if an engineer in this country will only design U.S. products," Cole says. "They'll be engineering products from all over the world. They'll need to work in global collaborative environments, be strong in their engineering fundamentals, and be proficient in all manner of modeling and simulation."

Ironically, the most valuable degree might be one in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering degrees, however, will need to be augmented with experience or education in software or embedded controls.

"A few years ago, electrical engineering was the hottest degree," Cole says. "But electronics ultimately need to be integrated into a product, so you need an engineer with a systems point of view."

For individuals who remain in automotive engineering, the good news is that corporate cultures in American companies are likely to change. Consultants say that for those companies to emerge stronger, their cultures will need to emphasize engineering more than ever before.

"Japanese car companies have real engineering cultures," Kleinbaum says. "Their engineers feel they have a route to the top. But in domestic companies, engineers know that the route to the top is through finance, marketing and general management."

Kleinbaum argues that for American automakers to stay in business, they'll need to provide a track for ambitious, committed engineers. "They need to be engineering-focused and product-focused," he says. "In a healthy automotive culture, you would have far more engineers sitting on the management committee than finance people."

To be sure, the outlook is likely to be cloudier for older engineers. Engineers whose expertise lies in purely mechanical systems and physical prototyping are more likely to struggle. Whether such engineers can find work in the revamped auto industry will depend on their willingness to educate themselves and work in global environments.

"There's not going to be a neatly packaged answer that applies to all engineers," Cole says. "But there's opportunity out there for people with skills, as long as those skills are contemporary."