An Engineer’s Greatest Design Challenges: Part 1

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 11:23am
David Mantey, Executive Editor, PD&D

In late 2012, Product Design & Development (PD&D) conducted its annual Time-to-Market survey. Each year, the data is collected from hundreds of individuals to help gauge the ever-changing role of the design engineer in the marketplace.

Significant Challenges for Design Engineers

As in years past, time-to-market was noted as one of the greatest challenges design engineers face, however, and perhaps as a result of the volatile global economy, time-to-market pressures only made it into the top three. In 2012, both controlling costs (35.3% of respondents) and project management (30.9%) eclipsed improving time-to-market (19.1%) as the most significant challenge.

Component selection was a distant fourth (10.3%), with a few engineers noting corporate bureaucracy (which I’d lump in with project management) as their top challenge. Others added “innovation” as a top challenge, while another engineer bemoaned the pains of “product performance assurance.”

Read: An Engineer’s Greatest Design Challenges: Part 2

Time-to-market obstacles during the design and development process.

In 2011, 30% of PD&D readers tapped testing as the top time-to-market obstacle during the design and development process. In 2012, testing remained in the top three (20.6%), but reader perspective shifted toward initial concept design (26.5%) as the most troubling stage of the development process. Initial concept design was up 4.5% from 2011.

Readying for production (23.5%) came in second and experienced an 8.5% jump from 2011. Prototyping (16.2%) overcame internal review (7.4%) for the fourth spot on the list. Prototyping saw a 4.2% jump, while internal review was nearly cut in half, affecting 13% in 2011.

It should also be noted that component specification was selected by 4% of respondents in 2011, while not a single engineer noted it in 2012.

Accelerating time-to-market obstacles

Perhaps a representation of continuously shrinking staffs, a lack of personnel resources (27.9% of respondents) was selected as the greatest obstacle to accelerating time-to-market, up 5.9% from last year.
In 2011, documentation (34%) was the design engineer’s greatest obstacle. That figure plummeted in 2012, dropping to 11.8%.

While most categories remained consistent, customer approval (16.2%) jumped 12.2% from 2011.

Lumped into the “other” category, here are a few samples from engineers who had more specific obstacles:

  • A clear definition of what is needed [in a design], and having the definition change often.
  • Software development.
  • Optimizing features, costs, and manufacturability tradeoffs.
  • Test verification.
  • Unforeseen problems.

 Superior software features that improve development times.

When it comes to new software features that render all others as “lesser than”, simulation capabilities (30.9% of respondents) took the top spot as the one software feature that had the greatest impact on improving development times. While the category only gained a meager 2.9% since 2011, its new reign over other features resulted from the precipitous drop-off in better CAD functionality (42% in 2011, 20.6% in 2012).

Read An Engineer’s Greatest Design Challenges: Part 2 to view more survey results.


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