Lately at this blog, I’ve been writing a lot about the distinction between engineer, designer and drafter roles in engineering organizations. Ultimately, I’ve been trying to get a firmer handle on who exactly does what and what engineering technology they use to do it. In response to one of my posts, Matthew Loew, sent me over an article he wrote called Is the design engineer extinct? at Machine Design. Here’s the most relevant excerpts, some of which is taken out of sequence, that is most relevant to this discussion.
Unfortunately, the design engineer is becoming a rare breed in industry and might even be headed for extinction in the U.S. A competent design engineer has one of the most critical roles in product development, but there are fewer and fewer with the requisite skills. One reason is people confuse the capabilities of CAD engineers with those of design engineers.
Design engineers are mechanical, electrical, structural, and other
engineers who use CAD, modeling, and simulation tools to develop
components and systems. In contrast, CAD engineers mainly use CAD to
create a geometry that becomes a product. CAD engineers are essentially
modelers and detailers with a degree or enough experience to let them be
granted the title of engineer.
While designers with good CAD skills generally shouldn’t be given
overall product engineering responsibility, the truth is it happens in
many organizations. Designers are often paid less than engineers and
when a designer proves resourceful, they can appear to management to be a
From my perspective, I don’t think we can reliably determine the activities of an individual’s job from their title any longer. Someone can have an engineering title but spend 80% of their time creating drawings with a CAD software application. Someone else with a designer title could spend 90% of their day making product form, fit and function decisions or shepherding the product through the development cycle. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that associating specific titles with specific activities are moot. You have to understand what someone is doing in their day to day job and go from there.
Is the design engineer extinct? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s the point. Are all of the activities that need to be performed in the development cycle getting done? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. I think the subtle theme in Matt’s article that’s never quite expressly said is whether or not those activities are being done by qualified individuals. I imagine this would be somewhat of a self-correcting problem where engineering-negligent manufacturers ruin their brand, are engaged in litigation and eventually go under. However we venture into what is a complicated and debated course topic for any engineering ABIT (org site) accredited school: engineering ethics. But I’ll save detail on that for another post.
Lots of questions here to discuss. Are design engineers extinct? Is engineering work being done by unqualified individuals? Are some manufacturers skirting the edge of engineering negligence? Let me know what you think.
Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.